There are a few days a week when the house becomes so still I can hear it groan and creak. Birdsong becomes clear, and I can almost hear the wind weave through our backyard trees from inside. I hear the coming and going of my neighbors alongside of all the thoughts I’ve been kept from when our house is loud, bustling, and full.
The silence and solitude are all at once both refreshing and terrifying. In short, silence isn’t the norm for me these days. As a mom of three, when I’m not refereeing arguments or feeding my ever-growing kids, I’m navigating through the noise of people coming and going; I’m connecting with others in the noise of social media, email inboxes that are always too full, and a million more messaging apps that now fill my phone screen. And it’s not just online: the noise in a crowded sanctuary can be overwhelming, the sound of needs and desire for attention from my family at the dinner table can be dizzying, and even in the grocery store, I’m bombarded by the noise of choices.
The culture I live in feels addicted to noise, even in the places that claim otherwise.
When I was little, there was a time in elementary school when recess was so overwhelming, I would go and hide in a bathroom stall. Locking the door and being in an enclosed space with physical boundaries I could see and feel, gave my anxious mind relief for a few needed minutes.
For the longest time, I never told anyone that I did this. From a young age, like water necessary for living, I drank the belief that quietness was wrong, and the message that loneliness was a disease that must be treated immediately. Needing quiet, needing to be alone, and being overwhelmed all felt like there was something wrong with me — something I learned to be ashamed of.
Most of us live in a system that values productivity, programming, busyness, and noise. So often, even good things, like pushes for community and connection, get lumped into this noise. Because of this system, a feeling of loneliness creates an internal spiral. A moment of quietness spurs us into a panic.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for isolation and rugged independence. I wholeheartedly believe in community; I even wrote about grieving it and rebuilding it my last article here. But I’m weary of the conversations around community that zoom in on quiet and seasons of loneliness as if they are bad or wrong. I’m weary of the message that making margin for quiet space is selfish. I’m frustrated by the cookie-cutter promises that say following these five steps will free you from being alone as if community can be made by to-do lists and slot machine prayers. Lonely seasons and quiet space not only give us needed fuel and margin, they can teach us how to be present and authentic in our lack, our need, and our bodies. Though it seems counterintuitive, it’s the addiction to noise, lack of margin, idolizing community, and inability to be alone with God that lead us to burnout, bitterness, and eventually, living isolated lives.
The experience of God’s presence in my loneliest moments and years are treasures to me now. I didn’t know God’s name when I hid in the bathroom all those years ago, but I still remember a comforting presence with me, one that didn’t ask me to be louder, but gave me stillness and breathing room. Years later, when I read David’s words about a God with him in his mother’s womb and the same God with him in the darkness of his own failures, I already knew and understood that presence. I could look back and see how God had met me and stood with me in hidden places of quiet, sadness, and longing, long before I knew who God was.
On the days that are quiet, I try to keep them that way, counting them a gift. I remember the imaginary stall doors in mind: boundaries to breathe, be, and find God with me. I’m reminded that I am not a machine, nor will I find what I need by grasping for control or reaching for more noise. No, I am a beloved person who is kept, held, seen, and created to be dependent on my Creator.
If I will allow it, the quiet spaces lead me and keep me. Loneliness isn’t wrong, nor is it a destination — it’s a momentary teacher and companion that leads me to God and others. It’s a space where I am comforted and learn how to comfort in return. It’s what leads me forward in seeing others, building community and deep, authentic connection.
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