How to Invite More Silence into Your Life (And Why You Should!)
When I recently spent a year trying to fit spiritual disciplines into my life as a mom, one of the disciplines I most longed for was silence. With one son and now especially with two, there are times when I think my head might explode from over-stimulation. There just seems to be so much noise all the time that I often feel I can’t focus on anything.
I don’t usually think any of this noise is my fault, of course. I tend to blame it all on the boys. They’re talking over each other to try to get my or my husband’s attention, or they’re play-fighting. Or singing loudly, or squealing or yelling or laughing. Sometimes, naturally, these sounds are closely followed by equally loud sobs.
I have been known to send them both into the backyard just so I can think for a minute.
Yep, I was pretty sure that the noise in my household was not caused by me. Poor Mom. She longed for quiet, but she was going to have to pay someone to provide it for her.
So here’s the funny thing: when I tried to practice silence for a month I realized that I was actually the source of a lot of the noise. I was talking, yes, to the boys (and sometimes to myself), but I was also constantly listening to the radio in the kitchen and playing music on my smartphone or computer. I didn’t seem to be capable of driving without reflexively turning on the radio or a playlist.
And that wasn’t all. Noise was coming at me in ways I hadn’t before realized—through magazines, books, newspapers. I’d always been a reader, but after becoming a mom it became harder to find the time to read, so I started to jam reading into the nooks and crannies of my day. I’ve been known to read while I am cooking or wiping down the counters or brushing my teeth. On any given day I am usually reading several books, three or so magazines, and have at least today’s paper sitting on my kitchen counter (if not last week’s Sunday paper too). Not to mention all the emails and information coming at me from my smartphone and computer. I realized I was literally consuming media for almost all my waking hours.
And all of it was just as noisy as the music and voices. It was keeping me from true silence, the kind of silence where you can listen for God’s voice. As much as I thought I was enjoying all the music and the reading, it wasn’t making me feel very peaceful. In fact, I think the constant barrage of information was producing more anxiety.
So here are some solutions I’ve found to help create more silence.
1) Drive in silence, especially when you’re feeling stressed. Particularly for short drives, I’ve found driving with no music or radio to be a very easy and effective way to bring more silence into my life. When I’m heading for the store or the coffee shop or to school pickup or drop-off, my default has now become to leave the music or talk radio off. As much as I had thought listening to music elevated my mood, I’ve realized that these few minutes of quiet help me to arrive at my destination feeling a lot more peaceful and calm. They also help to open me to God’s voice and God’s leadings about what I’m doing, where I’m going. Often I find myself praying for unexpected people or things.
2) Make listening to music a family decision. Instead of automatically turning on the radio in the kitchen or playing the songs I want to listen to from a playlist on my phone or tablet, I have started consulting my boys. What this has done is to help me pause before I press play. So when I reach for the on switch, I have learned to stop and say, Wait, I should ask the boys if they want to listen to music or not. Often just thinking this is enough to convince me that I don’t want to turn it on at all! But other times, I get to offer them the option. To my surprise, often (especially in the car), they opt for silence. Other times, they love having a say in what song or station we listen to. Making it a family consensus helps me to make it a more conscious decision and also to enjoy it more when we do choose to listen (even that 415th time through “Everything Is Awesome”).
3) Remember that practicing silence is also about knowing when to talk. Practicing silence doesn’t mean never talking. Sometimes silence is a beautiful way to connect with God, but other times it’s just avoidance. Especially now that my children are out of the baby stage, sometimes there’s silence in our house because someone (occasionally me!) is pouting or because we’re all too busy engaged in our own stuff to interact with each other. In trying to more intentionally practice silence I realized that often the most important thing for me to do was to put down my phone or book or kitchen cloth and deliberately engage with my children or my husband, to remind them how interested I was in what they had going on and what a priority they were to me. (Even when, I’ll admit, sometimes I felt I would really rather have kept reading or texting or wiping down the counters.) I have yet to be sorry that I did so.
Silence, especially for those of us with small children, often feels like an impossible goal, but I’ve found that I really can create more quiet space in my family’s life. And when I do, the rewards are great—not only increased connection with my children and spouse, but also increased connection with God. When I turn some of the other stuff off, I find God’s voice that much easier to discern. That in itself is enough for me to keep trying.