As an extreme extrovert in an evangelical context silence was something that I was never quite comfortable with. I didn’t know what to do with it – so my time in silence usually looked like this – “Am I supposed to be talking? Is God supposed to be talking? What am I going to have for lunch? Did I ever call that person back? How long has it been? Only five minutes – is that long enough? How much longer? Is this working? I’m bored – but I shouldn’t be. One more minute. Okay, well – Amen, I guess.”
Let’s face it, there are a lot of unspoken expectations that go along with silence. We tend to expect that in times of silence we are supposed to hear from God – or at least feel particularly close to God – and if we don’t then either we weren’t silent long enough, or we didn’t do it right.
And to be honest, most of our worship experiences rarely incorporated silence. Most Sunday mornings are so jammed-packed that not even the Holy Spirit could change the schedule – unless there was a literal act of God. Even in moments were there could be silence we fill it with music, or clapping, or talking. We clutter our worship experiences because we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves or with God during moments of silence.
An informative conversation a few years back with a wise mentor gave me some insight into the purpose of silence. She said to me, ‘Perhaps the reason you are uncomfortable with silence is because you expect something to happen. But really, in silence all we do is exist before God. It is a moment to be together – and sometimes one of us will have something to say – but most of the time we won’t.’ This was a revelatory moment for me.
I have since grown to love silence – and I need it to be a regular part of my worship experience. I appreciate the time to simply exist before God – with no expectation that I will be moved, or called, or exhorted. I can just be – and I can simply rest in the presence of my Creator. In a cluttered world that never seems to stop or slow down and a culture that measures your worth by what you produce silence is a much needed practice. It reminds us that God does not measure us by what we say, or do, or think – God simply wants to be with us because God loves us. Perhaps if we de-clutter our worship just a bit and allow ourselves to simply exist in the presence of God, without expectation, we might be surprised by what we encounter.