Reporter: When you pray, what do you say to God?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. I just listen.
Reporter: What does God say to you?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. God just listens, too. And if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you.
—Mother Teresa of Calcutta
When you pray, do not keep on babbling.
– Jesus, Matthew 6.6-8
I’m running into more and more Christians who like the idea of silence, which I find so encouraging. It is deeply comforting to know the practice of Silent Prayer is no longer foreign in Christian circles. Unfortunately though, I’m also finding so many people who speak highly of silence, but then stop there. They’re comfortable talking about Silent Prayer and maybe utilizing it in times of crisis or sacredness, but then don’t go any further than that. What I’ve noticed about this phenomenon is its similarity to Jesus’ description of the seed scattered on the road in Matthew 13.5/6:
It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
Isn’t that a wonderful analogy for when we encounter something or someone new, get all excited, and then only moments or days later, feel completely bored? What is so sad about this to me is how often we experience this type of temporary encounter with life and then decipher that this was all that "the seed" ever had to offer us. We never return to discover the greater, endless reality hidden within by allowing the roots to reach into our depths. … Where are your roots?
What concerns me when people treat Silent Prayer this way is how they become no less anxious, no less afraid, and no less distracted in life; neither do they become any more humble, any more peaceful, or any more intimate with God or other people. At best, they become more educated about methods of prayer. This familiarity with Silent Prayer without digging any roots into it breeds numbness.
People will say things like, “I just get so distracted,” or, “I just get so bored,” as excuses for avoiding a practice of Silent Prayer when those are exactly the reasons for a practice of Silent Prayer! If we are unable to focus on God’s humble and often silent presence within us for any real duration of time when our eyes are closed and our mouths are silent, what makes us think we’re focused on him while it’s busy and chaotic? If we can’t worship, love, and listen to God when it’s silent, are we really worshiping, loving, or listening to him when it’s loud? Any internal hurdles we have to be simply present to God in the kingdom of God within are a revelation of how our external lives are shaped and formed to avoid this intimacy with God, ourselves, and others.
When we create a regular practice of Silent Prayer, we discover a baseline of awareness, consciousness, and intimacy with God. Once we stand firmly on that baseline by returning to it regularly, the ups and downs of life no longer dominate our emotions or way of thinking. We come to know and being known by a peace beyond understanding.
Silent Prayer is an invitation to depth and intimacy with God, ourselves, and each other. I can’t imagine anything more worthy of just 20-30min of our time and efforts.