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. 

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Too Busy To Discern?

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1. Busyness and/or overwork is sometimes a simple reality. American culture emphasizes doing over being. Between home life, demands at work, needs of extended family, and everything else, we can become too busy practically all the time, doing things that we consider important.

The needs and sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the world are so great that it’s easy to see that every baptized person is called to “busy” themselves about the Lord’s work. Whether it’s praying and offering for others, reaching out with small gestures of love at home, responding to a neighbor’s crisis, or engaging in full-time apostolate, living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy keep us all busy! For those of us involved in full-time apostolate, juggling family and work, or part of the “sandwich generation”—raising our kids and taking care of elderly parents or relatives—there is simply not enough time in the day to do all that we want to do, to express our love in all the ways that we want to. And there are certainly seasons of our lives when the Lord invites us to that special self-offering of giving at “full stretch”—whether to our children and family at home, to fulfill our responsibilities at work, to reach out to those in need, or in fulfilling the Church’s mission.

But we cannot run at full stretch all the time. We also need time to replenish ourselves so that we can continue to give of ourselves fully and freely. If we find ourselves often grumpy, stressed, or exhausted; if our life starts to feel unbearable; if we have crafted or allowed our lifestyle to develop in such a way that we don’t have time for daily prayer and a weekly chunk of time to nurture ourselves; if we find ourselves taking refuge in work or busyness, then we need to re-examine our lives, giving some time to these questions:

  • What is most important to us?
  • What do we want to give priority to in our lives?
  • Are we giving priority to what is merely superficially urgent (e.g., work has many deadlines), or to the truly crucial (e.g., our spiritual state, the direction of our lives, our important relationships?)
  • Are we deceiving ourselves with the illusion that being super-busy or overworked gives us more importance, control, or power?

Allowing ourselves to be deceived by the illusion of importance, power, and control is not spiritually healthy. It can distract us from what is truly important in our lives, and deceive us about our true, deepest call. The world is in God’s hands and will not fall apart if we take a break, make time for a half hour of daily prayer, or schedule in the necessary time to take care of ourselves. Always being “too busy,” or always saying “yes” to additional responsibilities can become a way of avoiding ourselves. This can be a deception of the ego or of the devil; either way, I am sure that the devil uses this self-deception to prevent us from listening to God and to prevent our growth in humility.

When we choose or allow ourselves to become frantically busy all the time, we can start to think we are more important than we are. Our priorities become mixed up. There is a difference between feeling needed and feeling indispensable. The first may be true much of the time; the second is rarely true, and if it is, a back up plan is needed! Being overly busy isn’t just difficult for us; it also affects the quality of our relationships and can prevent us from taking time with the loved ones who really need us. When we fall into a cycle of being over-busy all the time, we may even be using being busy as an escape from prayer, spending quiet time, or difficult aspects of our relationships.

Above all—for the purposes of our discernment—being super-busy, stressed, or overworked prevents us from taking time to become quiet enough to deeply listen to God.