One early morning in college, as I got ready for class in the slightly surreal time before the rest of the world gets up, I remember looking in the mirror and being overwhelmed by a wave of frustration and emptiness. In that instant I felt like didn’t know what God wanted from me, like I didn’t know who God was, and I wasn’t sure who I was either. The usually steady voice in my head turned into a scream as I prayed, Why can’t I hear You? Just speak to me, God!
And then a thought came to me, unbidden, unanticipated, in a voice that sounded much like my own but softer and better. Be quiet, it said.
And the thought was quickly drowned out with more thoughts that came tumbling into my mind, trying to shut out that impulse, but I couldn’t smother it from my memory.
As I went through that day, and that week, I began to realize that somewhere along the way I had forgotten how to be quiet. I was filling every minute of my day with activities and noise. When I wasn’t in class or with friends or doing homework, I would come back to my room, exhausted from all the thinking and just want to watch a mindless show on netflix. That was my routine.
And my routine was pushing God into an ever smaller corner of my life. So I made a promise to myself to build quiet back into my life. For a while, I had to actually block out a time in my color-coded schedule that I called “quiet time.” Then I started writing. And once I had my thoughts on paper, I felt like there was more room in my head to take in more information. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I liked being quiet. I liked giving myself time to finish a thought. I started taking the long way to class just to think. I even found time to read for fun again.
Finding time often meant cutting out unnecessary noise. I stopped watching every show on hulu and found that most of them hadn’t been worth my time to begin with. I stopped habitually turning on music just to fill the silence. I stopped going to events just because I felt like I should, and only went to the ones that I wanted to go to.
And slowly I began to feel like myself again. My writing became less shallow and more focused. I began to see God working in ways that surprised and amazed me.
I’ve since learned that the reason the lack of quiet in my life affected me so strongly- perhaps more strongly than others around me- is because I am an introvert. And as an introvert, I have a very hard time thinking on a deep level when I’m surrounded by too much outside stimulation. One of the gifts and curses of an introverted disposition is the tendency to take in and analyze everything around us. Which is why so many introverts are thoughtful writers and good listeners. But because of this tendency, we require a lot more alone time to process and sort through all of the things that we take in when we’re out in the world. If we deny ourselves that time, we end up with noisy lives and even noisier heads. And if we let it go too long, we start to feel as if we don’t even know ourselves anymore.
It’s two years later, and I’m still learning to be quiet. But I am increasingly aware of how much I need it and how much God uses the spaces of quiet to work on me and share knowledge of Himself.
“A great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.“ (1 Kings 19:11-12)
Sometimes I think we go about our lives assuming that when God wants to tell us something, it will be with an earthquake or a fire- something that will be impossible to ignore. Then we realize too late that He was whispering to us the whole time, but we were making too much noise to hear Him.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that God so often works in the silence and the stillness. Moses was living the solitary life of a shepherd when God spoke to him from the burning bush. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness alone before he started His ministry. And throughout His earthly ministry, he repeatedly retreated to a quiet place to pray (Matthew 14:13, Mark 1:35). As a general rule, if God incarnate thinks that something is important enough to make time for it, we should pay attention to that.
It is amazing to me how resistant we can be to just stop doing things for a little while. Let’s stop running from quiet. Let’s stop packing our schedules so full that we don’t have time to stop and think about what we’re doing.
(And for my introverted friends, I have lots more to say on the topic of introversion, but perhaps that will be a topic for another time. For now I cannot over-emphasize how much I’ve appreciated reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. You can also check out her TED talk about the topic.)