By Tyler Wheeler
A Treasure Found
One of the more transformative moments in my walk with Christ was when I first went to a Benedictine monastery for a retreat. Here I found something that I didn’t know I had lost: silence and quiet. At first it was simply a physical silence. There just wasn’t much noise, both literally and figuratively; no TV, no radio, no co-workers, nothing. This physical silence left me uncomfortable and restless – but I stayed. I didn’t want to and every ounce of me sought to run but I stayed (well…because I’d already paid for the retreat).
I entered into the silence, the emptiness. I knew I had to face myself and my Creator. This exterior silence that was almost painful at first slowly began to create an interior silence that was healing and enlightening. I felt God was working, as He had always been, and now, I finally stopped to listen. In the silence, in this encounter with Christ, I was laid bare, naked before God. I had to face Him and through that, see myself more clearly.
This retreat experience fundamentally changed how I seek, or rather, try to be open to Christ – I realized that I need periodic silence (daily, yearly retreat, etc.), a stripping away of all my noise and distractions, to encounter God at a more intimate level. The lesson I learned at that retreat is still very much true today.
Seeking a Cave
“There he went into a cave and spent the night…The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
My world is inundated with noise; an unholy clanging fills my ears and mind. I know I need silence but unfortunately our world is a tornado of noise. The Word of God struggles to find a resting place within me. What I learned on that retreat is that I must go away to a cave, like Elijah, to let the Word nestle in my heart, to hear His gentle whisper.
The cave is a place of exterior silence that leads to interior silence. It can be a moment of pause in a busy day or a week long retreat. It’s creating a space where there can be an interior “stripping away,” a going into the desert, a removal of crutches and false idols. There’s nothing to do in the cave but listen for the Lord. God is found in the whisper.
But What about Our Children
What I found at that retreat and what I still seek, I want for my children. I want it for them now and also in the future. I want them to taste the sweet silence of God now but also to equip them to enter their cave for the rest of their lives. In theory this sounds wonderful but…. the reality is – they are kids! I happen to have 3 sons and one daughter whose main vocation in life, it seems, is to fill every second of silence with as much noise as possible.
Yet, I know they yearn for it. They, whether they know it or not, and like many of us, can say, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O’ Lord.” (St. Augustine) I, as a parent, must help them to find something they don’t know they desire; I must give them a gift they’ve never dreamed of asking for. How? I don’t know in all honesty, but here are a few things my wife and I are trying:
- Have “quiet time” every day. This time is to be filled with reading, coloring, or some quiet activity that they do apart from everyone else. We do 30 minutes but I know other parents do it for both shorter and longer time periods.
- Don’t fill their time with planned activities but allow them to be bored. Let them explore, let them do menial undirected activity.
- At appropriate times and places, remind your child(ren) when they are creating unnecessary and unfruitful noise. Help them to quiet their minds and hearts by quieting their mouths and bodies.
- Give them chores that are substantial and are done alone. I once heard a priest attribute the discernment of his vocation to farm chores. During chores he was forced to “enter the nothingness.”
- Go to Eucharistic adoration.
- When you pray with them, have an extended silent time to quietly call upon the Lord. Teach them to be comfortable with silence and to listen.
As our family continues to seek to create quiet where we can encounter Christ, we will pray that your family may find Christ in the silence as well.