What does an extrovert know about silence and solitude?
When I first started out in ministry someone shared the concept of silence and solitude with me as a spiritual discipline. I was both frightened and dreading it as if it was punishment. I, like most extroverts, get my energy from social interactions and being around people. Silence and solitude sounded like forced loneliness and a “time out” enforced by an angry or disappointed parent.
Ironically, my actual experience with solitude and silence has been one of the best disciplines for me to practice because it goes against my natural tendency as an extrovert. It has brought me peace, balance and a deeper awareness of myself and God.
It has brought me peace, balance and a deeper awareness of myself and God.
The first time with silence didn’t seem difficult to me. Until I realized that even though I wasn’t talking, even though I was “still”, my inner world was very active and loud. It seemed to hum with activity and kept giving me suggestions that were more distracting than helpful. It was when I took time to be still and silent that I became aware of the noise within me. So to my surprise, I wasn’t practicing the spiritual discipline of silence yet.
To truly be still and to practice silence is to take time to quiet not just your outer world but your inner world as well. To let the dust of your thoughts settle. I found this difficult at first. Each time a thought would pop up in my head it was like the Wack-A-Mole game we would play as kids at a carnival. I attempted to crush every thought when it popped up. Yet, I learned that sometimes the best way was to let it pop up and then dismiss it. I would visualize taking the thought and releasing it or putting it on a shelf in the room of my imagination, setting it aside. The goal to be still and silent before God had to be priority during this practice. It is in those moments that I have heard from God in His still small voice and connected with His peace that passes understanding.
In the beginning the actual stillness within would not last long. Each time I practiced quieting my inner world, though, the longer I was able to be in silence. These spaces of silence were like a perfectly placed rest in a score of music for me. It became a source of strength. My energy and renewal was not coming from business or a social buzz but instead from a place within. I was learning to cultivate an inner meeting place with God. Scripture is clear that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Solitude also became a place of strength and a resource to my spirit and my creativity.
Solitude also became a place of strength and a resource to my spirit and my creativity. In the beginning I didn’t know what to do with myself for the 24 or 48 hours of solitude I would have. I worked hard at being very focused on scripture study and prayer but after awhile I would just need a nap. Spending that much time on my own in solitude as a mom of four and an officer wasn’t something I was used to doing. I feared that I would be lonely but that dissolved quickly because it wasn’t a lonely experience. It was dedicated fellowship time with God. When I expressed my concern to my mentor about always needing a nap and not being “spiritual” enough during my solitude time (by taking a nap instead of reading my Bible), she reminded me that solitude is time spent with God for nourishment. If my body needed rest, then that was what I should do. If painting, drawing or creating in some way brought me closer to God in worship, then that is what I should do. It is amazing what you can learn about yourself by stepping into the discipline of solitude. In resting I realized how I had not been taking care of myself. In creating though painting, I found a process of inner healing. I wouldn’t have learned these things without taking the time to experience solitude. More than a time for prayer and bible study, it was also a time to really find out ways that God cares for me and desires fellowship with me. It wasn’t lonely because I was not alone.
I know many introverts who need time to them selves to re-energize. At the start it wasn’t a natural desire for me as an extrovert. However, the more I practiced the more I set time aside for these spiritual disciplines, the more I needed them and the more I wanted them. When we can be still before God in our inner world, when we can step away from all the activities that often define us, my experience has been that I find a truer sense of God and a truer sense of self.
Written by Lt. Colonel Carole Voisey, Corps Officer of the Peekskill Corps, GNY