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The Christadelphian | November 2016

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An A-Z of discipleship

‘Q’ for Quietness

“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7, KJV)

How important is quietness to you? Do you bustle around, enjoying the cacophony of chaos that accompanies modern life, purposefully filling rare silence with background noise from the radio or TV? Does silence make you feel uncomfortable? Do you ever give yourself time to be alone with your thoughts, or to sit in silence and think about nothing at all? Would you feel guilty if you did? In this article, we consider the benefits of quietness for our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

The science of silence

Before technology brought music, TV and online entertainment into our homes, life was a lot quieter. Silence was normal and no one was afraid of it. Today, many people cannot bear it. They fill their lives with noise: music, YouTube videos, radio and TV programmes – anything to plug the silence. Yet quietness is important. Our brains need it. You might be tempted to think that listening to calming music is just as relaxing as enjoying complete silence, but studies have shown that this is not the case. True quietness is what will benefit us the most.

An increasing amount of research is being conducted by scientists into the benefits of silence for our mental and physical well-being. We now know that too much noise can cause high blood pressure, disrupted sleep patterns, stress and tension, and can also worsen symptoms of depression.

We too often overload our brains with background noise, making it more difficult to focus on the conversation we are having or the thoughts we are thinking. Our brains have to work far harder than they would if there was no noise to contend with and we are left mentally exhausted. We find it harder to concentrate, solve problems and come up with new ideas.

Thankfully, even just a few minutes of silence can have a wonderfully restorative effect on our frazzled brains. It gives us a chance to recharge, calm our overworked senses and focus on the present.

Houses, gardens and mountains

When we read about the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, we often read that great crowds gathered around him. It must have been difficult to find quietness and solitude when so many people wanted to talk to him, to hear him speak, and to be healed. Surrounded by so many people, so much of the time, would have been exhausting enough, but Jesus also had the added weight of knowing their thoughts and empathising with their emotions.

Knowing he would not be in a fit state to serve others if he was permanently exhausted and mentally overloaded, Jesus made time for quietness and solitude. This was surely one reason for his frequent visits to Bethany, to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. These visits would have been a welcome and necessary retreat for both Jesus and his disciples: time spent away from the noise and the crowds; time to enjoy good company and the peace and quiet of village life.

We, too, know how refreshing it is to spend a weekend in good company, away from the world’s clamour. The busier and more stressful life is, the more important it is to make time for friends and family, not only for our own well-being, but also to maintain these valuable relationships. If we find we are so busy that we never seem to spend time with those we love, then we are too busy and something needs to change.

Quiet time surrounded by the beauty of creation – be it in the garden or up a mountain – brings calm and balance into our lives. Reacting to Job’s utter distress, Elihu told him to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). [1] Focusing on God’s creation not only helps to calm our racing minds, but also puts everything into perspective.

The Garden of Gethsemane was an important place for Jesus and his disciples. The night of his betrayal was not the first time they had visited this quiet, secluded garden. Close to bustle of the city, yet a world away in its peacefulness, it would have been the perfect place to go when they needed to get away from the crowds and the noise.

Sometimes Jesus needed to be alone, away from even his closest disciples, and so we read in Matthew 14:23 that –

“… after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

This time spent in prayer was part of what kept him going. It gave him the strength to face another day, to keep obeying the word of his Father, and to focus on the joy that lay before him. Not only this, but it gave him time and space quietly to cast the burdens of the day on the Almighty God, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.

There is a definite connection here between quietness and solitude, and prayer. Do we see prayer only as a means of communicating with our Heavenly Father? Or do we also see it as time out from the bustle of the world – time to re-focus, to sit in silence, and to still our anxious thoughts? Have you ever considered that perhaps prayer is crucial for our physical and mental well-being as well as our spiritual well-being? Might this change the way in which you view prayer?

Solitude is not selfish

In retreating from the crowds, Jesus was ensuring he was physically and emotionally strong enough to minister to others and to live a life of obedience to his Father. We all know from experience that we resist temptation far better when we are calm and well rested. For Jesus, resisting temptation was crucial if he was to fulfil his purpose as the great high priest.

Although we know we shall never live up to the standard the Lord Jesus has set us for our lives, there is certainly wisdom in following his example and ensuring we take time out when we need to. When our minds are rested, we are more patient, gentle and kind. We do not lose our temper so easily, and we are more prepared to fight temptation.

We should not feel guilty about taking time out – be it ten minutes to sit in the garden and pray, or a day out in the countryside – because we know that solitude is a God-given mechanism to help us process thoughts and emotions. This is particularly important if we are feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of life. Jeremiah understood this when he wrote:

“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him.” (Lamentations 3:25-28)

Times of solitude and quiet prayer allow us to process thoughts and emotions, and to move forward with a healthier perspective.

He restores my soul

Quietness is essential for our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. God did not speak to Elijah upon Mount Horeb through the earthquake, wind or fire but with a still, small voice. How are we to hear this quiet whisper if we are always rushing around, surrounded by constant noise, and bombarded by the incessant chatter of our own minds? It is so important to take time out to be alone with God, whether in silent prayer, meditation on His word, or a quiet state of awareness.

Consider the words of Psalm 23:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (verses 1-3)

Here, the Psalmist paints a picture of the quietness, stillness and calm that can be ours when we rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him (Psalm 37:7). God is our shepherd and will make sure that we are safe and well provided for. He is in control. He doesn’t make us wander alone through a barren, parched wilderness, looking for green pastures, fresh water and a safe place to rest; He lovingly leads us there and invites us to stay with Him.

There is no place here for striving and stress. This is the place to which we come when the tempest winds are battering our sails, our bodies are weary and our minds are overcome with the cares of this life. We come to rest and graze in God’s pastures and to drink from the well of living water that never runs dry. Shutting the door on the noise and chaos of the world for a while, we spend quiet time alone with God so that, restored and renewed, we are ready to face the trials of life with fresh determination and strength.

Aspire to live quietly

So far, we have considered quietness and solitude as discrete moments: time taken away from the bustle of everyday life. Yet quietness is also a way of life and a desirable characteristic for the disciple of Christ.

In the world, success is measured by how busy we are, how much responsibility we have at work, how much we earn, how high-flying our children are, how big our house is, and how many expensive possessions we own. The more tired and overworked we are, the more impressed people seem to be. To live up to these standards usually requires that we work extremely long hours, neglect our families, ignore signs of mental and physical exhaustion, and bring up our children to do the same.

Is this the kind of life to which we have been called? How does God measure success?

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind.”

The Preacher wrote this in Ecclesiastes 4:6. In this short book, we read time and again of the pointless vanity of pursuing wealth and status. It will not bring us happiness. We need to find a better balance – working to live, not living to work. On no account should we use this as an excuse to be lazy, for “sweet is the sleep of the labourer” (5:12). We ought instead to work quietly, to earn our own living and to avoid idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:11,12), obeying our earthly masters with sincerity, and “work[ing] heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). In the words of the Apostle Paul, we should “aspire to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

This applies not only to those who go out to work, but also to those who work at home. Housework, childcare and looking out for the welfare of our brothers and sisters are all ways in which we labour, but if we overburden ourselves, we run the risk of burning out. Part of the problem is that our inner critic is constantly telling us that we are not doing enough, that we are wasting time if we are not busy, and that we should be keeping up with the Joneses (house spotless, lawn manicured, windows gleaming, children seen and not heard). We pile immense pressure on ourselves, and to what end?

“What gain has the worker from his toil? … I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9,12,13)

If we are so close to burning out that we no longer take pleasure in life, are too irritable to show kindness to others, and have no time or energy to enjoy the fruits of our labour, then we will never appreciate God’s gift to man. Life will be miserable.

It is okay to earn less and have more time for family and ecclesia. It is okay to live in a small house or flat. It is okay to say ‘no’ to commitments that would gain the praise and acclamation of peers but bring unnecessary stress into your life. It is okay to have a dusty mantelpiece and a messy playroom. It is okay if there are weeds in the garden and spatters of mud on the car. It is okay to sit down and do nothing once in a while.

Aspire to live quietly, to make more time for God, family, friends and ecclesia. Cut out unnecessary stress and toil, stop pursuing wealth and the praise of men, stop comparing yourself to the Joneses (who, by the way, are a figment of your imagination) and start enjoying the gifts God has given you.

As we make space for quietness in our lives and aspire to live quietly, not rushing around and pursuing acclamation and promotion, but rather being “content to fill a little space, if [God] be glorified” (Hymn 137), we shall begin to notice the positive impact of this quietness and calmness on our character. We shall deal better with negative emotions, feel more motivated and focused, remain calm under temptation and pressure, and discover we have time to appreciate the joys and blessings of life. We shall learn to be still, to wait patiently for God, and to listen for that still, small voice of calm that leads us beside still waters and restores our souls.

Points to consider

  • Do you ever find yourself filling silence with unnecessary background noise? If you do, challenge yourself to go a day – or even a week – without background noise. Turn off the car radio, put your phone on silent, use technology purposefully and mindfully, and reap the benefits of a calmer, more focused mind.
  • How do you spend your evenings and weekends? Are they as busy and stressful as a working day? Do they need to be? What could you cut out in order to have more quiet time, either alone or with others?
  • Are there any unnecessary events or commitments you could cut out of the next few months and replace either with a quiet weekend at home, or with a visit to or from friends and family?
  • What changes could you make in your life in order to find a few moments of quiet and calm each day? You could try going for a walk during your lunch break. After work or school, try ditching screen time (temporarily or permanently) in favour of quiet activities, many of which now seem so old-fashioned to us yet are wonderfully relaxing: knitting, sewing, drawing, painting, woodwork, model-making, reading, writing, baking, gardening or playing board games.

Amy Parkin

[1] All quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise noted.

 

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