Sitting in the Silence by Tonya Detweiler

Sitting still has never been my forte. All I have ever known is enough energy to get up and go, stay on the go at full throttle speed, often juggling two or three extracurricular activities or balancing multiple jobs at the same time. I have usually been fortunate to find work and activities that offer flexibility and allow this pace to be possible, and because I usually felt happy, it has often felt like a good way of life.

A few years ago the pastoral team at our church challenged us to “5 Habits of Jesus Followers,” which included weekly tasks such as blessing people not connected to our church, eating meals with others, studying scriptures, practicing journaling, and the fifth one… listening to the Holy Spirit. The first four felt doable, because for doers like me, those are the easy ones. You add them to your to-do lists, get them done, and off you go. But that last one felt more difficult.  We were to spend ten minutes a day sitting in silence to listen to what God might have to say to us, reveal to us, or just to center ourselves around God for ten minutes each day. I liked the concept, but couldn’t we talk about it in small group, or form a bible study, or go to lunch and talk about how we were listening? You get it. I needed to be quiet and practice this discipline most of all. And I knew it.

The first day was excruciating. My mind wandered like a toddler from shiny new thing to shiny new thought and I couldn’t focus on anything. The quietness made me uncomfortable in part because I couldn’t get my mind off of the long to-do list hanging in the balance getting untouched because I was to be listening – for ten long minutes. In those early weeks, I know I didn’t last for more than a few minutes a day before declaring this practice a complete waste of time.

And then one morning during my devotional time, I came across this scripture in Matthew 6 where Jesus says, “Here’s what you do: (I liked his action word choice). Find a secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6:6.

This verse was jam packed with action verbs that I could understand, and yet mixed with the foreign art of just being and listening. It mixed the doing with the listening in a way that suddenly made sense to me. It wasn’t about me. It was about taking the focus off of me, and putting it solely on God. I could be quiet because I didn’t have to “role-play before God.” That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I needed this practice more than I had ever realized.

With time it has gotten easier, but it has more importantly, gotten more essential as a part of my day. There are still days when ten minutes might as well be an hour because it feels like just that. But there have been times when God has cleared my mind, centered me around a thought that was just what I needed to hear or reflect upon, or there have even been times when this practice of listening quietly to God has guided me towards an action that I might have either missed or miscalculated had I not spent that quiet time listening to God in silence and slowing down just enough to avoid a wrong direction. Of utter importance, it is ten minutes a day when it is not about me. It is about whatever God wants to reveal to me. And that practice of submission has been a healing grace and treasured time that is necessary before I thrust into the craziness of whatever the day may bring.

I am reminded often of the saying, “Don’t let the noise of the world keep you from hearing the voice of the Lord.” How true this is. How true Jesus’ words are that challenge us to find that secluded place where only God’s noise can be heard. It can indeed center us for the entire day on the noise that is yet to come. Listening, in this context, couldn’t be more active or more necessary. And to do that well, we must slow down and often even stop. For then God has room to come in and speak to us without role playing or shouting above the earthly noise that can so easily take over.

Tonya Detweiler serves as the board treasurer for Mennonite Women USA. She was born in West Liberty, Ohio into the Mennonite home of Ray and Mary Hunsberger. Tonya grew up in Newton, Kansas and has fond memories of spending countless hours on her grandparent’s farm. Tonya currently serves as president of Blue Diamond Communities in Goshen, Indiana where she lives with her husband Craig and their blended family of five children. In her free time, Tonya enjoys landscaping, entertaining, cooking and traveling.

4 thoughts on “Sitting in the Silence by Tonya Detweiler

  1. Gail Shetler on said:

    Thanks, Tonya, for sharing your insight. Stillness and silence is a spiritual practice that I find difficult as well! As the church year ends with Christ the King Sunday and begins again with Advent, you’re words encourage me to give it a try once again as I again wait expectantly for Christ. Blessings.

  2. Audrey Metz on said:

    I was first introduced to Centering Prayer, years ago, when I was part of Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. It immediately became a healing, comforting way of praying that spoke to me in ways that “out loud” praying never did. In the silence, with the quiet thoughts directed to Godde and the waiting, there is no need to find the right words, no need to make anybody else wonder what I’m praying about. The only “anybody else” listening is an understanding – no explanation needed – is Godde.

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