Every City Harvester has heard this familiar term, “silence and solitude”. Harvest Kidz pastor Lynn Tan shares her personal experience with this spiritual discipline and the fruit it bears.
“Come away with Me.”
These are words we might be familiar with, as they are found in Mark 6. These are the words I felt the Holy Spirit say to me time and time again as I navigate the busyness of life, family and ministry.
Growing up in church, I learnt about the importance of having quiet time, a time set aside to worship, pray and read the Bible. It was good, for I remember vividly till this day my experiences with God in the tiny space that was my room—how I was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for the first time, how I would worship, lay hands on myself and ask for more of God’s presence, and how I would memorise Bible verses that became the bedrock of my prayer life years down the road. In the quiet, I spent my many wonderful moments of alone time with God.
But as I matured and became a wife, a mother of three, a pastor managing varying responsibilities, a volunteer in the community and in my kids’ schools, I felt I had less and less time and space to myself. While I could keep things well together, I found myself losing my personal inner peace. I felt like the disciples in Mark 6:31, physically tired and mentally weary after a busy time of ministry, with people constantly coming to them. I often—sometimes jokingly, sometimes in all seriousness—told my husband that I have an overload of the mental load, the mental load referring to the mental efforts involved in managing work, family, and household, seeing to never-ending details, logistics and schedules, trying to make sure everyone gets their needs met.
Thankfully just as he called out to the worn-out disciples, Jesus called out his invitation to me, “Come [away] with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
I have since learnt to respond to this invitation for it is an invitation to an abundant life in God.
An Invitation to Abundant Life
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
A WELCOME INTERRUPTION
German Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”
Being interrupted by God doesn’t sound too bad, does it? In practising the spiritual habit of silence and solitude, I have come to know God and to face up to myself in a new dimension. I went through the furnace of transformation as the Lord worked in my heart. It was in the silent personal space that I learnt to confront my inner motivations and vulnerabilities, and I gave myself over for God to work in my heart.
Arthur Paul Boers wrote in his book Servants And Leaders, that the wilderness was where Israelite leaders needed to ponder and recalibrate, “the wilderness stands in tension over and again with the agenda of palaces and the powers-that-be”. In silence and solitude, I learnt to lean in even more to God’s quiet whisper. I was taught detachment, relinquishing my deep inner desires, and attaching myself more to God. I received the inner peace I sought. It produced a serenity in me that felt different.
I also went through a period where I was a bit like the weeping prophet Jeremiah: I would weep every time I prayed, , read a Scripture (the Psalms would especially get the tears rolling) or shared a word. It was really unlike “thinker” me, but God was touching my heart on a deeper level.
Then the well of tears stopped, and I went through a period called the “dark night of the soul” where I did not feel God easily. It felt strange but I realised the Lord was inviting me to dig deeper. My roots sank deeper in search of the living waters beneath. I came to comprehend that it is really when we spend more time with God, that we can become more like him. For sure, we can try to work on the fruit of the Spirit, but it was only when I lingered long enough in His presence and rest that I truly understood what restful communion and theosis (coming into union with God) are like. I realised it is in this space I get my true peace. I started to have an inkling of what zero anger is!
BUILDING THE DISCIPLINE
I earnestly encourage every Christian believer to try spending time in silence and solitude. Recently we organised a two-day camp for 75 children, 9- and 10-year-olds. We brought them to experience nature and time in silence with God. We taught them that silence is needed for us to pay attention to God, and solitude is needed because away from distractions, we give space for God to work in our heart. As we spend about an hour going through various spiritual exercises, many of the children came away saying they sensed a restful peace in their hearts and heard God speaking to them.
Any new discipline can seem overwhelming. We might even resist it because it feels like we are putting aside what is “important” to “waste time” doing “nothing.” Try it and you will know nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) What is that good part? Try giving God full and undivided attention and you will discover it for yourself.
If you are new at silence and solitude and wish to incorporate the practice of silence and solitude in your daily life, start by setting aside 20 to 30 minutes, twice or three times a week. You can do this at home, in a room where you can be undistracted. Better still, go for a walk or cycle to a place where you can really be alone with God. Sometimes we need a break from the routine. I have gone to the Botanic Gardens, where I was surprised by the black swans coming up real close to me when I opened my eyes. I also enjoy my time with God by the waters at reservoirs and beaches. Being in nature is refreshing for me. It might do wonders for you too. Bring your Bible, a journal and pen with you into solitude. Put your mobile phone away. Slowly build that into a daily habit.
Breath prayers are a good way to start. They are short prayers that can be recited with the rhythms of breathing. Once in a quiet place, close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and thank God for the breath of life. Do this several times slowly. Allow any intruding thoughts to “float away” down an imaginary stream. Be conscious of God. Recite a short prayer alongside your breathing, for example, “be still” (inhale), “and know” (exhale), “that I” (inhale), “am God” (exhale). Do this several times. Another example is, “I remain” (inhale), “in you” (exhale), “and you” (inhale), “in me” (exhale).
Draw near to God and He draws near to you. Be fully present and contemplatively rest in God. Enjoy Him.