Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for silence, solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
The following is a guest post by Joy Cassellius, director of Tamán Prayer Ministry in Cd. Valles, Mexico
Moses and Joshua
I remember the beginning days of Tamán when my team and I went through the Bible trying to find the perfect verse to shape our ministry culture. After going through a number of verses, God brought me back to my favorite person in the Bible, Moses, and Exodus 33:11…
So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (NKJV)
We see Moses live in a constant state of seeking the Lord´s counsel throughout his leadership; what an example to the next generation. In the beginning of the chapter, it says that while the rest of the people stood in the entrances of their tents, young Joshua ventured into the tabernacle with Moses. Even when his leader, Moses, departed the tabernacle to look to the matters of the Israelites, Joshua didn´t depart. I could repeat that over and over and still get goose bumps. Joshua did not depart from the tabernacle. He went on to become one of the bravest leaders in the history of Israel and it all started because a great leader modeled the importance of seeking the Lord. Moses took Joshua to the very presence of God and inspired him to pursue God with wholeheartedness.
Often, when the Lord speaks to us, we don´t fully understand the depth of His words until years later. While I nodded in blind agreement those early days as the Lord unpacked His dream for Tamán, I didn´t fully grasp it. Our name, Tamán, means place of meeting, as we believed that spiritual leaders would seek the Lord in the prayer room and that their example would propel a whole generation of Joshuas to the feet of Jesus. How exactly God would work that out? I didn´t know.
For the past three years, I thought about our theme verse and prayed for God to meet with His leaders at our prayer room, as well as bring in the Joshuas who would spend their youth discovering Him. As we welcomed people of all ages onto the Tamán team, my perspective on church culture started shifting. God kept challenging me with questions about the segregation of the generations within the church and the separating of the young from the old, and the married from the single.
The Kingdom´s Pride and Joy
As I wrestled through my philosophy on what church and Christian community should look like, God provided a key learning moment. My good friend, who sang on a Tamán worship team, suddenly lost her babysitter and started bringing her kids, ages 5 and 8, to the prayer room. Two hours of prayer proves difficult for most adults at first, so I worried about unsupervised kids disrupting our peaceful prayer time. After all, as the director, I had to think about the comfort of the others in the prayer room, right? In much of church culture today, children are removed from more ‘serious’ spiritual activities. We make sure to pay babysitters to watch them, leave them home with one of the parents or segregate them in some back room with Veggie Tales.
I decided to invite the kids to engage and actually go forward to pray in the microphone at times. Hesitantly, I decided to let the situation run its course and deal with issues as they arose. As I studied scripture, Jesus took me to His reaction to children in Luke 18:15-17. Jesus called children the ´kingdom´s pride and joy´ (The Message). Yes, those two incredible kids who sat next to me drawing and occasionally arguing with each other until I broke it up, are the ´pride and joy´ of the kingdom we are supposedly building for the Lord.
I watched as each week my friend showed up to the prayer room with her kids in tow. While she could have used the excuse of being a single, working mother, wanting to have her one free morning to get laundry done, she modeled the importance of seeking the Lord to her kids instead. Tamán only supplemented their nightly Bible time and her lessons on how to pray for the needs of the world. They brought their books, Barbie dolls, coloring books, action heroes, and Bibles to the prayer room. As they played and read during the two hours, you could sporadically hear their kid voices singing out to God.
No one in the prayer room could keep a dry eye when the eight-year-old got up to pray for the kids of our city or a suffering nation and started to sob. He passionately reminded God of the mighty deeds He had done for the Israelites or what He had spoken through the prophets of old and asked God to do it again in our day. The six-year-old made us all smile with her sincere and simple prayers to God that He would ´blesseds´ kids and families, or that Christians in the Middle East would not get their heads cut off anymore.
The weeks went by and turned into months; we have all benefited from them bouncing into the prayer room and giving us hugs. Sure, they have yet to discover their inside voices and their crayons often roll off the table onto the cement floor making thumping sounds, but we love the Joshuas in our midst. Society hardwires us, especially those without kids, to view children as inconveniences, but Jesus calls us to rise to their level of love.
While the younger generations have trickled into the prayer room, so have the older generations. One of my favorite intercessors is in her fifties and I have watched the Lord break the chains of low self-esteem off of her during the past few years. He replaced them with boldness and the devil now trembles because she is making up for lost time. She faithfully shows up early each week to her prayer time. When I asked her why she arrives so early, she told me she likes praying for the prayer time before it starts. Talk about getting inspired to love God so much that you show up early to pray for the prayer meeting. She also helped me back into the habit of fasting with her example of regular fasting. She might not be known by the world, but she is a Moses to those of us in the prayer room.
The younger generations in the Church desperately need the older generations to stay engaged and not retire from mentorship and modeling. Like Moses, who inspired his young assistant to actually know God, we need spiritual aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers and grandparents who commit to living out their faith shoulder-to-shoulder with the younger generations. The state of future generations requires today´s youth and young adults to put down their screens and start following their godly leaders into the presence of God. One day soon, the Joshuas will face the impenetrable wall of Jericho and have to tap into their history with God in the secret place to bravely lead the Church.
The process of integrating the different generations into our little prayer room team has shown me the beauty of God´s design for His Church. We have to start refusing to buy into the world´s lies that people in different stages and seasons of life can´t relate to us, or that they may make us uncomfortable. The Church can´t separate the strength of the youth from the wisdom of the elders and expect favorable results. Strength without wisdom produces hype and disillusionment, while wisdom without strength gets conceited and stagnates. Only through unified generations seeking the Lord together, do our faith communities truly resemble the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!