Mother Teresa had a profound understanding of silence and its importance.
She once said:
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.”
This Lent, I would like to surrender my will to God.
Shouldn’t that be easy? Shouldn’t it go right along with “I’m giving up chocolate, desserts, and snacks for Lent”?
But it doesn’t. Trustful surrender does not come easily for me.
Although I say the words “Thy will be done” every time I utter the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t regularly put them into practice.
The truth is, even when I say those words quietly under my breath—as I often do throughout the day—something gets in the way of my complete trust in God. (Spoiler alert: that “something” is me.)
Underneath the surface of that prayer lies a shadowy doubt that emerges and whispers, “If I turn it over to you, Lord, do you really have this?” or “What if it doesn’t turn out as I’d hope?” or, if I’m really honest, “Couldn’t you conform your will to mine, Lord?”
I recently saw a meme that read: “Until we believe that prayer is worth our time, we won’t make time for prayer.”
Perhaps a similar line of thinking can be applied to trustful surrender: until we believe in God’s eternal goodness and His infinite sovereignty, it will be difficult to trust in His will.
If I really think about it and truly contemplate the immeasurable goodness of God, why do I find it hard to surrender to His will? Why do I hesitate to unite my will to His if I believe that God can do all things and that He wills my highest good?
The truth is that nothing I do takes God by surprise. God is not making things up as He goes along, as though I suddenly confront Him with some action that He had not expected. There is nothing outside of His sovereign and redemptive plan.
And yet, how often do I really think about how much He loves me and stands always ready to forgive me? Scripture constantly assures us of the unfathomable mercy of God:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is thy faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,Lamentations 3:21-25
to the soul that seeks him.
God, who is the author of all things, gives me free will and allows my choices to matter because He loves me and respects my freedom.
He is the “Sovereign Gentleman” who will never force our will. (I admit there are times when I wish He would.)
The Practice of Silence = Surrender to God’s Will
I recently read a biography of Mother Teresa and was struck by her willingness to surrender to God.
She once said that to know God is to want to give Him everything.
Her trustful surrender really shouldn’t surprise me, since she sought to develop in herself and in her Sisters “the constant awareness of the Divine Presence everywhere and in everyone.”
How did she accomplish this constant awareness?
By seeking silence.
Mother Teresa told her Sisters, “The fruit of silence is prayer.”
She spoke often about interior silence, saying that since she was surrounded by noise and restlessness, she had to find silence within her soul. To make interior silence possible, she said we should practice it often:
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noises and restlessness. God is the friend of silence…The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us. Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In this silence he listens to us and speaks to our souls. And there, we will hear his voice…In this silence we find a new energy and a real unity. God’s energy becomes ours, allowing us to perform things well. There is unity of our thoughts with his thoughts, of our prayers with his prayers, of our actions with his actions, of our life with his life.”St. Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa believed that silence was key for uniting her will to God’s. It is the same for all of us.
How Can We Make the Best of Prayerful Silence?
I help teach Confirmation class at our parish. A few years ago, at a retreat, the students had a chance to spend time in Adoration.
As we prepared to enter the chapel, Sister Mary Elizabeth, one of the young nuns who assisted with spiritual education at our church, was walking out. I asked her if she could share with the students some suggestions on how they might spend this time with Our Lord.
Here is what she said:
First, think about how amazing God is and thank Him for bringing you here. Then just talk to God about what’s on your mind. Tell Him about your day…your week…and what you are struggling with. Ask His help in bringing to mind those sins that are keeping you from Him. If you can’t think of something else to say, just sit there with Him. Don’t be afraid of the silence. Think how an elderly couple might sit in rockers on a porch together in comfortable silence…and just sit that way with Jesus.Sr. Mary Elizabeth (Daughters of the Virgin Mother)
I am so grateful that we bumped into Sr. Mary Elizabeth on our way to Adoration that day!
Although it is difficult to find silence in the midst of a noisy world, we must make time for it—at least interiorly—as much as possible. How hard this is! But if we don’t, we will find that trustful surrender will remain elusive, and that nagging doubts will have more ability to creep in from the shadows.
Lent is a time for deliberate actions that help unite us to Our Lord.
Why not make silence one of them?
Questions For Quiet Lenten Reflection
Here are some questions for reflection this Lent:
1. Do I spend any time in silence each day?
2. Do I seek out silence? Or do I fill in any opportunity for quiet time with noise instead?
3. Do I turn on music in the car when I could drive in silence for a while?
4. Do I phone a friend when I could spend some time in prayer?
5. Do I speak when words are unnecessary?
6. Do I stop to contemplate the sovereignty of God and consider His majesty?
7. Do I actively seek to know and do God’s will, so that I can better discern what He is asking of me?
8. Do I make time to be alone with God in prayerful silence?