How To Discern If We Are Uncomfortable with Silence

métis 56A second obstacle to interior listening is a restlessness or discomfort with silence or deeper reflection.

If someone isn’t used to a lot of silence or more contemplative forms of prayer, some restlessness or discomort with silence is not truly an obstacle at all, but simply something to become used to. Starting out small—five or ten minutes of quiet prayer—is manageable for many people on a daily basis. (If five minutes seems unbearable, try starting with just two minutes—there are some good two-minute meditation books available. God is not limited by time. He can do in one second what would take us a century…or would simply be impossible for us to do on our own.)

Often, inner restlessness or an inability to sit still can arise because we are currently suffering a profound loss or grief; the pain that we feel surfaces every time we start to quiet down, so we shy away from silence. This is a time to be gentle with ourselves. It’s good if we can still take short times of silence or quiet prayer, acknowledge the pain long enough to be aware of it and to offer it to the Lord, but then move on to another form of prayer or some other activity that soothes us. For example, instead of sitting still in Eucharistic adoration, take a prayer walk and pray the Rosary, or repeat a phrase from Scripture that is meaningful while we walk. When we are too restless to sit still, we can find other ways to pray and listen to God, such as journaling, art-journaling, listening to music or a song that reminds us of God’s love for us, etc. Eventually, our inner restlessness will pass and we can return to quiet prayer.

If we struggle regularly with an inner restlessness that makes silence or quiet prayer times uncomfortable, this could mean we are simply uncomfortable with the thoughts and feelings that arise when we are quiet. If quiet prayer and reflection haven’t been part of our lives, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings can truly become overwhelming. If this is the case, beginning slow—with even two minutes of reflection—is helpful. A structured method for praying—such as lectio divina, centering prayer, or Eucharistic adoration—can also be useful because it gives us a place to focus in the quiet. (Some resources are listed below.) If thoughts or feelings arise that are deeply troublesome, speaking to a counselor or trusted mentor about them can help us to sort through them.

Quiet, reflective prayer times are important for the deep listening that discernment requires, but God works with us individually, where we are, responding our specific needs and desires right now. Total silence can be helpful but is not always necessary (or even possible). Freedom from distractions so that we can listen deeply to the Lord is what we are looking for. Sometimes soothing music, or a prayerful practice—such as journaling or a form of art—can be more helpful than silence in leading us into a spirit of prayer.

Please Reflect & Share:

  • Where do you stand with silence today?
  •  What has helped you enter the silence of prayer when you have struggled with it?

Your sharing here (or anonymously by emailing me, and I will post your response) may be enormously helpful to another discerner. 

6 Ways To Recognize God in Our Life

Several Christian artists have written songs that refer to God’s “fingerprints” in our lives. We may have to look for them, but our lives are covered with signs of God’s love at work in us, although sometimes these signs are hidden. How can we grow in awareness of God’s presence and saving love in our life? Here are four simple ways to get started:

1. List your life—all the big events of your life. Can you see a pattern of how God has been present in your life? Later, you may wish to bring one of the events on your list to prayer.

2. Choose one of the events in your life that has influenced you and journal about it. (You can also bring it to prayer.)

3. If there’s a time in your life that you feel God wasn’t present, simply bring that hurt to God in prayer and ask him to reveal to you, at the best moment, how God was with you.

4. Make it a practice to bring your day or week to a prayerful review with the examen. (I’ll post more on how to do this later. If you want to get started right away, you can visit Father Michael Denk’s website and download his Examen App.)

Follow-up

Sometimes it is easier to enter into a new awareness by actively doing or creating something helps us to reflect with images, craftsmanship, or physical activity. Try one (or both) of the following:

  • Make a timeline, patchwork, or scrapbook of your own life – which includes both the “outer” or visible significant events of your life, and the “inner” or invisible significant events.
  • Draw your life as a pathway. Has it gone up a mountain, or through a dark forest? What signposts have shown you the way? Have you crossed beautiful meadows? Hit any roadblocks? What are the landmarks or milestones on your path? Where did your path begin, and where does it lead?

The Co-Author Relationship: God and I

Sunset at AssosDiscernment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in the context of our relationship with God. Discerning God’s will only makes sense if we have or seek a vibrant relationship with God. Whether we are trying to discern a major life choice, or live in greater conformity to God’s will, the best way to grow in that relationship and to become attuned to God’s voice is to spend time in prayer.

The title of this blog pushes this foundational principle a bit further: that we believe that God co-authors our life with us! If we believe that the Holy Spirit is directing our life, that God and I are “writing” our life story together, then it becomes even more important to spend time with God. Any time spent in prayer is important, but a quieter, more contemplative approach to  prayer will help us to learn how to listen to God in the light of God’s saving love. (More about listening in prayer later.)

One of the challenges of the Christian life is a temptation to try to earn God’s love, rather than trusting in God’s love. We don’t want to allow our discernment to be colored by this temptation. A true partnership, being a true “co-author” is a relationship of trust. Doing God’s will is not about proving ourselves, nor about trying to control our life and relationships. Instead, truly seeking to do God’s will is being like Mary, whose “yes” to God came from her ongoing relationship with God. At the Annunciation, Mary recognized God’s Lordship in her life, but she also recognized that her consent and her love were essential in collaborating with God’s salvific plan. She could only say “yes” the way she did precisely because of her relationship with God. Mary trusted God completely: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

When we truly seek to live God’s will, we recognize that this includes growing in our relationship with God. A true attitude of discernment allows God to take the lead, to set the parameters to our story, and to invite us deeper into the great adventure of our life.

Pen_UncappedTo Journal About:

  • How would I describe my relationship with God?