Enjoy the Silence

When we are quiet, not just for a few minutes, but for an hour or several hours, we may become uneasily aware of the presence within us of a disturbing stranger, the self that is both “I” and someone else… In silence we face and admit the gap between the depths of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface, which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love.

Thomas Merton
“Creative Silence” from Love and Living

I have a bad habit of judging the success of a day on how much I’m able to accomplish in it. Wasting time has always been a deep-seated fear of mine, but lately it’s caused me a lot more grief than usual – I think because I’m much more conscious of the fact that I’m getting older. (Yes, I hear you laughing and reminding me that I’m “only 26”, but do you know how frightfully old that sounds to my ears?)

Because I work full-time, I end up packing my precious spare time full of so many things – projects I’ve devoted myself to, goals I’m working toward, people I want to see, the countless interests I’m pursuing – and all of these are good things. Obviously. They enrich my life. But without space for silence, I’m too exhausted to be fully present in every moment. I’m too drained to make my time count.

More than that, when I’ve failed to cultivate solitude in my life, I’m not as helpful to my friends and family as I’d like to be. It’s difficult to help someone gain clarity in their life when your own mind is blurred, worn, and tired.

Without a certain element of solitude there can be no compassion, because when you are lost in the wheels of a social machine, you are no longer aware of human needs as a matter of personal responsibility. One can escape from men by plunging into the midst of a crowd! Go into the desert not to escape other people but in order to find them in God.

Thomas Merton
“Solitude is Not Separation” from New Seeds of Contemplation

The funny thing about all of this is that I’m a supreme introvert. I crave solitude. I need it to function. As Donald Miller writes in Blue Like Jazz: “I am that cordless screwdriver that has to charge for twenty hours to earn ten minutes’ use.” So why do I hesitate to give myself what I need?

In one of our many pertinent conversations recently, Luke helped me get to the root of this question, and the answer surprised me. Somehow, I’ve fallen into the trap of measuring my worth by my actions – my life by how much I’ve accomplished. And while it’s true that our actions define us, I sometimes twist that truth and start to subconsciously believe that I earn my worth through my accomplishments. That’s one small step away from believing I need to earn love from others. Including God.

Whoa. Brain, meet screeching halt.

Love isn’t something I can earn. By its nature, it’s a gift freely given to me. If I can’t accept that gift without any strings attached, I’ve missed the point of love in a spectacular fashion.

Time, silence, and solitude: all three seem so elusive sometimes, but I need to make room for them. I need to leave God room to work in me and through me on the levels He wants to. When I’m obsessing over the puzzle of my life, trying to find new ways to make everything fit together, I feel distant – from God, from others, and ironically enough, from myself. When I drop the puzzle pieces and let God solve me, I taste peace (even if the rewiring process is difficult). I not only feel more connected, I feel more comfortable in my own skin.

There is nothing I can do to fix myself or make myself more worthy in His eyes or anyone else’s. I’m already worthy. I’m already loved. And that’s enough.

Such a simple truth, but I let it fall to the background far too often.