The value of silence



For Lent one year in high school, I gave up listening to music (or anything else, like talk shows or podcasts) in the car. I thought not being able to jam while driving would be quite a sacrifice. What I didn’t realize was that giving this up would make way for the reception of something greater – silence. It seems kind of silly and obvious that driving time would be quieter, but there was a tendency – and I think this is true for most people today – for me to ignore the need for silence in my life and not even realize the lack thereof.

In the car, I found my body and mind relaxing more, and my heart and mind gazing upward to God more often. (The purpose of any praying, fasting and almsgiving should have a spiritual benefit and draw us closer to the Lord. I knew that not listening to music would be a sacrifice and a dying to self, but I was surprised at the huge benefit I received!) The addition of silence while driving, which I did every day, at least to and from school and often more than that, created a nice balance in my day between auditory input and the quiet I grew to value. I was guaranteed some time each day for the beauty of quiet.

I gave up music in the car for Lent again the following year, but could no longer do so after that; my time in the car had flipped, not only during Lent but all of the time. I rarely listened to anything! (Disclaimer here: I’m not talking about going into deep prayer; safety on the road is still obviously a priority.)

Silence in the car is wonderful. I continue the practice today. Some people have found it funny that I don’t regularly listen to music in the car since I’m a music therapist. I love listening to music! But it must be balanced with silence in my day, and I’ve come to love the car time silence.

I believe silence can be beneficial in most situations. However, having silence while simply sitting and praying is extremely important. Silence while doing nothing else may be uncomfortable at first and time may pass slowly. But for prayer, retreating to a quiet place can be one of the most important steps. I’ve heard that before starting prayer, make sure you have “exterior silence” (environmental noises as quiet as is possible, phone on silent, etc.) and “interior silence” (try to set aside distracting thoughts). After recognizing the presence of the Lord and His love, one is ready to begin a conversation with Jesus.

Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

When I first heard this quote, I really let it sink in. Yikes. Our culture today doesn’t seem to value silence. Countless things vie for our attention, and we try to fill our time. However, Pascal wrote this in the 1600s! Even without technology and continuous access to the world through our smartphones, he recognized that many aren’t willing to be quiet and listen. But this is how we connect with God! This is how we come to know ourselves, receive the graces we need to live the Lord’s will each day, and how we can share our struggles and hear a response.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” I’m trying every day to listen more, to place great value on silence, and to prioritize this crucial aspect of my day. Will you join me this year? 2021 won’t be any different than 2020 unless we strive to make it so.