Silence and solitude help us fully appreciate that God is always seeking us and inviting us to participate with him.
By Carmen Fleming, GCI-US Home Church Member
Some of us arrive at Easter Sunday without any preparation for such an extraordinary celebration – the fact that Jesus conquered death! I am guilty! Sometimes the message feels all too familiar, the songs too repetitive. I have arrived, but I am lacking heart.
How can the season of Easter Prep prepare us to worship? What if we were to use this season as a special time of preparation? Could this season open our hearts to become more enthralled, more captivated by the goodness and greatness of God?
Lent (we refer to the season as Easter Prep in GCI) is an ancient tradition adopted by Christians who wanted more than anything to follow this magnificent Jesus and participate in what he was doing in their world. That meant following him into the solitude of the desert to pray and fast as he did. Almsgiving was added in imitation of his self-giving love. Today, similar to those Christians, we also answer the call to follow Jesus.
His life had a particular rhythm of being alone with the Father to then go out and do everything the Father said. He often withdrew to solitary places (Luke 5:16). He encouraged his disciples to do the same.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)
Jesus’ practice of listening to the Father in solitude through prayer and fasting strengthened and deepened his commitment to do only what the Father wanted done. Imagine the Father seeing what you do in secret and rewarding you with a heart so fascinated with him that your admiration goes off the charts. Imagine being so assured you belong to God that you long to be taken into what he is doing throughout the world, so that what he is doing becomes your life.
In our modern world following Jesus into “solitary places” is difficult. It requires slowing down, taking control of our calendar to make him a priority. This is why prayer and fasting are called spiritual disciplines. You intentionally position yourself to encounter God personally and receive the grace to let him be involved in your life.
These practices have no power of themselves. Rich Villodas, in his book The Deeply Formed Life, describes what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
The deeply formed life is not possible without an intentional reordering of our lives. The practices don’t save us or make God love us more. We are saved by God’s free and faithful love in Christ. They are meant to help us receive and express God’s love in deeply formed ways. Each practice is strengthened by the presence of others (people) on the journey. They are meant to complement and enliven such core spiritual practices as Sunday worship, receiving the sacraments, hearing the gospel preached and gathering with others for prayer and friendship.
When we follow Jesus’ instructions to “go into your room, close the door and pray,” we create the conditions to actually listen to what he is saying, to feel his presence, his seeking of relationship, and thus relate to him in a more conversational way. Solitude means the door is closed to anything else that might distract you. Silence means you turn off all music, put aside the scriptures, and become still enough to be absorbed with God.
Solitude and silence are some of the hardest practices I have ever done. Even after years of practice, there are times I can barely be still with God. I am distracted, sometimes anxious to get moving to accomplish what is on my list. It feels like I’m wasting time. Once the outer noise is silenced the inner noise poses its own challenges.
The “committee members” in my head all have something to say. One reminds me of things I need to get done. Another is critical of me for a mistake I made. Another reminds me of a future event, sometimes inciting anxiety. Yet another does its usual judging of this person or that. As hard as these disciplines are, the benefits are enormous because solitude and silence make space for a different response than judging, explaining, and trying to fix.
I have come to value these disciplines because after periods of wandering away, when I get into the room and close the door, I often notice how empty and exhausted I feel. When I get the sense that God is saying welcome home, I have been waiting for you, tears might flow. There I lean in for love and renewal.
Solitude and silence have done two important things to grow my love for Jesus. One is to train me to sit under God’s loving gaze and open my heart to receive change and direction. It’s a practice in surrender to God’s agenda allowing him to do what he thinks is essential in me. He might speak or not, just being there is an expression of trust that being with him is enough to form me into a true human.
The second thing solitude and silence has done is awaken me to how desperately I need God’s power to love as he has loved me. It’s his powerful love that changes me for the sake of others when faced with his invitations to forgive myself and my enemies.
As you go through the season of Easter Prep, find a solitary place, and listen attentively to your Father for guidance. Ask him what new spiritual practice will best position you to receive the grace to become more fascinated and enthralled with Jesus. The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun is a good resource. It teaches you how to practice solitude and silence and many other disciplines. It will guide you in choosing the best disciplines for this season in your faith journey. I encourage you to make a plan. Write it down. Then ask God to meet you in it. May you celebrate the magnificence of Jesus this Easter with a heart set on fire by his love.
 Dallas, Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, p. 292
 Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life, p. xxvi-xxvii
 Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Practices That Transform Us