I have been reading the excellent Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster the last few weeks, and have been prompted to deep reflection on the subject of the Spiritual Disciplines as a result. This week’s reading was on the discipline of solitude (or silence), and has really got me nervous – but in a good way.
Let’s face it – Isaac + Silence = pig’s flying
I’m a man of many words. Its just who I am. Although I have been putting forth a lot of effort into momitoring what I say before it leaves my lips, I will probably never be the type of person that one would call “a quiet guy”. So, when I began reading about this discipline, I got really nervous. I am taking these seriously as actions that I should take as a Christian and, just like the Scripture, we can’t just pick and choose the parts that we like.
So with a fair amount of apprehension I delved into this chapter, wonder what awaited me, and was surprised to find – well – the beauty of solitude. Foster talks about the nature of solitude, and that it doesn’t necessarily conform to the idea I had of sitting by yourself for hours on end in a desolate place – although sometimes it does. Practicing solitude (or silence – the two are very closely bound) is really about claiming and holding fast to those moments when we are alone to reflect on God’s work in our lives. The few minutes before work. The quiet walk to class. The traffic jam. All of these are wonderful opportunities to just BE with God, and to release yourself to his presence.
The really neat thing is that solitude doesn’t necessarily require you to be alone. Foster talks about practicing solitude in a crowd by letting every word, every action reflect the presence of our Heavenly Father. He also notes that practicing silence does not mean a legalistic approach of saying “I will not speak for 40 days”. It is about limiting your speach to what is necessary. It is about not saying what is unnecessary. It is, most importantly, about letting God be our justifier.
Foster points out that our tongue is both a thermometer and thermostat. As a thermometer, it goves our spiritual temperature. As a thermostat, it also regulates our spiritual temperature. The simple truth is this. Most of us use words to justify ourselves in the eyes of others. We worry so much about how others perceive what we are doing, that we feel the need to justify ourselves by “making them understand”. Christ did not need to justify himself. On many occasions, when confronted about what he was doing, he told parables. At times he remained silent. More often than not he asked questions in return. Instead of justifying himself, he let the Father provide justification for him. We are called to do the same. So we must watch our tongues, lest they become a sacrifice of fools.
Foster also talks about the “dark night of the soul”. This is a time that many who practice the discipline of solitude experience. It is a time when we become rather disatisfied with life. Foster urges us to recognize it for what it is – not some strange depression, but an opportunity for God to really shape us, without distraction. The melancholy, and lack of interest in study, worship, even fellowship can serve to remove distraction from focused attention on God. It is a season that will pass in time, but must be embraced if we are to allow God to work in us through this discipline.
I know I have essentially given a rather choppy interpretation of this chapter now, so let’s get to the point. This book has had a huge impact on me already, and this chapter has convicted me personally. I am ready to accept God’s justification in my life, rather than a justification of words. Does this mean that I will become a “quiet man”? Not likely. What it does mean is that it is time for me to actively engage in removing words without meaning from my life. To letting my Yes be Yes, and my No be No. To capturing the quiet moments alone with my Father in Heaven. To letting him mold me in the silence.
Will you join me in solitude?