The plane hit turbulence as she perched precariously on the potty.
“Mama? Mama?! Mama!” she yelped, as she clutched my arms tighter.
“I’m right here, sweetie,” I said. The tiny airplane lavatory hardly fit one person under best circumstances and rough winds sent us both rocking against the walls. I squatted down to face her, but even the sight of me inches from her face didn’t calm her.
“Mama! Mama!!” she wiggled to get down from the potty. I held her tighter, repeating my reassurances, but she refused to be comforted. Her eyes grew round with fear and I realized she couldn’t hear me over roar of the engines.
I bent forward, nestling her face in my shirt and brushing my lips against her ear. “Mama’s right here. You’ll be alright.” I stroked her hair and began singing her favorite lullaby into her ear.
She went limp in my arms, and I kept singing and stroking until she was completely relaxed.
“Mama,” she sighed, and all was well.
When Your Prayers Are Met With Silence
Whether it’s an unexpected diagnosis, a fledgling marriage, a discovered addiction, a sudden firing, or something else, we all face situations that leave us gasping for air, sending SOS prayers heavenward while we try to get our bearings.
We begin to wonder, Where is God in all this? Why isn’t He stepping in to take care of me? If He loved me, wouldn’t He want to fix this? I know those questions because I’ve been there myself.
Friends offer pat answers, telling us “It will all work out in the end,” and “Count your blessings,” and “It could be worse.” But those words sound hollow even if they are well-intentioned.
We cry out to God but hear nothing. Only silence.
And if you’ve ever felt your prayers hit the ceiling, you know how disheartening that feeling can be.
Deaf to the Quiet Voice
I love that we are not left alone in these feelings. David, Asaph, Moses, and other writers of the Bible all felt this way as well. Take a look at this psalm:
To you I call, o LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to You for help.
Psalm 28:1-2 (emphasis mine)
Anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a few weeks can probably relate.
But as I crouched in front of my toddler in that airplane lavatory, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between her fear and ours, my reassurances and God’s.
I wasn’t far from her when we hit turbulence. In fact, I was standing right in front of her. But she couldn’t hear my gentle reassurances because of the roaring sound of the engines and the fear in her own heart.
Which makes me wonder, What if what we think is God’s silence is really noise pollution, a cacophony of sounds vying for our attention?
Friends’ sympathy, self-help remedies, morning pep talks, internal chatter, even hastily-read Bible verses and worship lyrics… these all can make us deaf to God’s quiet reassurances spoken directly to our spirits.
We’ll never hear His words if we don’t tune out the competing noise.
Listening for God’s Voice
God is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27), and He longs to gather us under His wings, if only we would be still and acknowledge that He is God.
What I’m trying to say is that noise can drone out God’s gentle voice, so we need to make stillness a priority in our prayer lives.
Prayer is not just about talking to God, it’s also listening to God. Like any healthy conversation, prayer requires two-way communication, both talking and listening. And if you’ve been living in the hyper-connected social media age, you probably have a hard time just being still and listening.
Much like listening for a cricket in a busy intersection, listening for God’s voice requires that we tune out the noise and tune into His heart. How do we do that?
1. Pray for stillness
The One who said to the storm “Peace. Be still!” can also quiet the tempest raging in our hearts and lives. And He will, if we let Him.
Write out a prayer of quiet, like this one, and ask God to help you quiet your mind and heart. You may even want to repeat the same prayer day after day until you see it becoming real in your life.
2. Seek little solitudes
Look for “little solitudes” throughout your day, whether in the first moments after you wake up, at every stop light, or other regular chores. Consider taking social media breaks every day or one day a week (my day is Sunday), so you can quiet the external clamor and listen to His voice.
3. End prayer with silence
Once you’ve finished your regular time of prayer, don’t rush off after you’ve said “Amen.” Stick around for a bit and listen to what God may be saying to you in response to your prayer. Consider starting a prayer journal to write out your prayers and any words you receive from the Lord. At any rate, practice being quiet in prayer.
4. Take a silent retreat
If you have a free day (or if you can swap babysitting duties with a friend for a few hours), spend a part of it in silence, shutting off your phone and email, keeping meals simple (or fasting), and focusing your attention on God. The first 20-30 minutes your mind may race with prayer requests, grocery lists, and other concerns. That’s ok. Keep a notebook nearby and write them all down, then return your attention to God. After a while, everything will seem to slow down and you’ll be left face-to-face with your Loving Father. What a beautiful time of worship and praise.
There is no formula when it comes to spiritual matters, but we have a Counselor living inside of us, and He will happily guide us into closer intimacy with Him, including learning to listen to His voice.
And when we do, we may just find out that what we thought was silence was really His soft whispers all along.
Have you ever experienced what felt like heaven being silent? How did you handle the situation?
To read other posts in our current series on the Inner Life of Powerful Prayer, click here.