In a go-go world, what could be worse than silence, being still, doing nothing? It is the “doing nothing” that engenders guilt and anxiety, that evokes fear. This is precisely why we so desperately need stillness.
Stillness strips us of our illusions that we are so important life can’t go on without us. It can and will easy enough, and stillness helps us come to terms with our smallness.
Stillness often reveals and exposes the spiritual and moral emptiness of our lives. Instead of fishing in the shallows for approval, applause, and accolades, which is what we do in our busyness and constant activity, stillness sends us out into the deeper water, where we must explore the depths of our souls, where we must face the mass of contradictions we all are, where there is both terror and beauty. Only here, in the depths, can real healing and liberation take place. In learning to accept and forgive ourselves, we are able to accept and forgive others.
In stillness we learn to stand naked before God without title or claim, without merit or demerit, without shame, pretense, or fear—just as we are—and let ourselves be loved by God, not for what we have done or haven’t done, but for simply being alive, for being a child of God.
In stillness we learn to be nourished by God’s living word, by bread from heaven, by unrelenting grace, and consequently, the need to feed on the energy of others, their praise or judgment, is diminished. In stillness we relinquish all attempts at self-commentary. We learn to rest in who we are in God, no more and no less. We begin to realize that we do not need to project or maintain a certain self-image. We see how foolish it is to compare ourselves to others and to compete—who is the smartest, the best, the greatest?—it all becomes silly games children play.
We learn to restrain our speech—to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)—so that our tongue does not “go off” (or turn on) automatically. The discipline of stillness gives us the inner distance and necessary control to more carefully measure our words and consider our responses, rather than react instinctively.
We learn how to pay attention and actually listen to people—not just what they say, but what they don’t say. We learn to see the face behind the face and discern the real spirit often disguised by outward appearances. One of the greatest gifts we can give to someone is our undivided attention. There is something to the old adage that God gives us two ears and one mouth so that we will spend twice as much time listening as talking.
We realize that authentic spirituality has nothing to do with efficiency or effectiveness. We find a kind of rhythm in the flow of the Spirit that enables us to wait with patience with as much ease as we engage in some project or active service.
Possibly the greatest of all benefits is the capacity to live a grateful life, to be thankful, which grows in proportion to our expanding capacity to see, taste, and experience the goodness of God that holds everything together.