I think one of the greatest reasons we have lost a desire for prayer is because we have lost our access to silence.
I don’t mean just shutting up and not talking; I’m referring to silence as those moments of stillness, moments where we create a space to really listen. We have lost our capacity to be still.
Let’s be honest. We’re distracted beings. At least I am. Every moment of my day is filled with something. I don’t sit still very well. This wasn’t always the case. I was the kid that was never very bothered by time-outs because I could just sit with my own thoughts and be entertained. I used to lay in the grass and stare and think for hours. But now, when I wake up: phone. Before I go to sleep: phone. In the car: radio. Not this song. Flip flip flip. Not that song. Flip flip flip. In the bathroom: phone. In the grocery line: phone. In the waiting room: phone.
No, this post is not about phones or the bane of technology. But it is a lot about kindling the desire to reclaim moments of stillness in our day. And in reclaiming those moments of stillness, as we re-engage our beings to listen to the Lord, we have chosen to enter into a life of prayer.
Microsoft researcher Linda Stone describes our current state by saying, “We live in an age of continuous partial attention.” *
When you take a step back and look at just how much is happening around us, the bombardment of advertisements, commercials, music, words, notifications, etc., it’s easy to say, “Ugh! This culture! What we have we come to? It’s impossible for me to experience any rest or quiet or stillness!”
Well, #thestruggleisreal. HOWEVER, we cannot allow ourselves to become “victims” of our culture of busyness and bombardment. Carl Honoré calls this “culture” we live into “the cult of speed.”
But why the victim mentality? I’m pretty sure the last time I checked it was me that picked up my phone and scrolled through three different social media feeds while waiting in the grocery line. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t forced to do that. I’m pretty sure I was the one who set my alarm and my agenda and what I was going to eat. I was the one who chose to turn on the radio and keep the radio on, flipping all the while.
It’s my choices that make up how my day goes. I’ve been pretty convicted lately; I get to choose how much rest or peace or quiet I feel. I get to choose whether or not I’m going to spend certain moments in stillness or in the Word. I get to choose whether or not to enter into “the cult of speed.”
And y’all, this blessed little word: discipline.
Richard Foster, writing on solitude in The Celebration of Discipline, writes:
“The Spiritual Disciplines are things that we do. We must never lose sight of this fact. It is one thing to talk piously about ‘the solitude of the heart,’ but if that does not somehow work its way into our experience, then we have missed the point of the Disciplines. We are dealing with actions, not merely states of mind.”
Action: “an act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity.”
An act that one consciously wills.
I’m no expert on free will, but I do think it is amazing that we as human beings have the capacity to make choices for ourselves and, in essence, create our own reality out of the choices we make.
People make choices all the time to go on diets, begin exercise routines, clean out their houses, etc., but honestly, what is more vital than choosing to cultivate stillness in our inner lives?
Perhaps this still sounds a lot like a trumpet-call to time management, or just a go-against-the-grain-of-society-and-do-away-with-technology rah-rah cheer.
BUT. Prayer thrives in the place of stillness within us. If we have no access to that stillness – the space that literally enables us to hear the “still small voice” of God –then what do we really have?
Mother Teresa, in her book No Greater Love, puts it like this:
“Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God. This will need much sacrifice, but if we really mean to pray and want to pray we must be ready to do it now. These are only the first steps toward prayer but if we never make the first step with a determination, we will not reach the last one: the presence of God.”
Okay, okay. But practicals! What to DO?
Well, Richard Foster writes, “The first thing we can do is to take advantage of the ‘little solitudes’ that fill our day.”
What are the little solitudes? Anything from those first moments you wake up to those last moments before you go to sleep. Or what about the moments in grocery lines or while preparing a meal or all the moments you spend in your car in traffic or pick-up lines or while running errands?
“These tiny snatches of time are often lost to us. What a pity! They can and should be redeemed. They are times for inner quiet, for reorienting our lives like a compass needle. They are little moments that help us to be genuinely present where we are.”
Let’s do that. That ridiculous and uncomfortable and powerful thing: choosing to be still and pay attention. Choosing to carve out space for stillness right in the middle of all the frazzled, hurried, loud, bombarding moments.
*This, among other quotes, taken from The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.