The Wonder in Silence
by Rob Haynes
Director of Education and Leadership
World Methodist Evangelism
When I was young, my grandmother had strict rules against working on Sunday. We were not allowed to do household chores, work in the yard, or other such jobs. She insisted that we remember the day as one to rest from our work. She was so insistent on it that it frequently seemed that we worked hard to rest.
We are wired for the need to regularly rest. Yet, many of us are not very good at it. Frequently, we try to put our value in what we produce or what we can accomplish. As such, we run harder to accomplish and produce. However, consistent rest is good for both our bodies and our souls.
The Bible records the first day of respite in the creation story when God himself rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew people are commanded to take a day of rest as an act of faith. In an agrarian society where daily work was required to survive, a day of rest was an affirmation that Yahweh would provide every need. Jesus affirmed the need for a Sabbath rest and its benefits for the believer and the Kingdom alike.
Just as then, our modern age of always-on and always-available information does not lend itself well to rest. Many things are asking for our attention, twenty-four hours a day. Is it possible that a modern Sabbath is not just about putting down subsistence farming tools, but putting down our information devices?
The importance of a daily and weekly period of silence cannot be overstated. Time spent in prayer with the Lord, reading the Scriptures, participating in the means of grace, and enjoying the creation are all valuable. We who are created in the image of God are made for such things. Recently, I learned this in a new way when I committed to a day of silence. The absence of phone calls, text messages, and even the music on the radio created space for the Lord to work in my heart when nothing else could. I went to a nearby body of water and just took it all in. I truly felt that the Lord had led me beside the still waters to restore my soul. It was nothing complicated or planned. Rather, I just allowed the Lord to speak in whatever way he wanted to do so.
Rest throughout the year is important as well. When I first began serving in ministry full-time at a church, my senior pastor insisted that each staff member take two consecutive weeks of vacation each year. We were instructed to not call into the church and no one from the church would call us. While we were responsible for arranging things during our absence, our time away was to be a gift to us and to our families. This is likely the greatest gift in ministry anyone has every given me. Those two-week vacations, though not elaborate nor expensive, provided cherished memories for our family. The disconnect from communication provided a space where I could reconnect with my family and with the Lord.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, there is something that happens when we take these times of rest that lead to even greater things. Fred Rogers hosted an American children’s show that lasted nearly 900 episodes. He wrote more than 200 songs. He was also an ordained minister. In a 1994 television interview, he was asked, “Who has made a difference in your life?” His answer is a master class in remembering the sabbath. “A lot of people. A lot of people who have allowed me to have some silence. I don’t think we give that gift very much anymore. I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…. Oh my, this is a noisy world.”
In that same interview, Rogers said that the most important part of any book is the space between paragraphs. When we get to those spaces our minds have a moment to process what we have just read. You may have a full routine of activities for God each day, week, month, and year. Yet are you allowing yourself time prioritize the wonder of God over the information about God?
At the core of our Wesleyan theology is the belief that God is calling all people unto himself, that God wants to be in relationship with each of us. As we want to know God better, and introduce others to Christ, we would do well to create space for conveying the gospel message in word and deed as well as creating space for silence before our Triune God. Mr. Rogers was right: it is a noisy world. Go spend some time enjoying God’s created world in stillness and wonder.