Silence or solitude?


“Just be quiet.”

That’s what I want to say to the world at times. It’s a noisy place out here. Dings and voices and music and words, words, words.

And thoughts. My brain is never mute. My mind races on and on.

So I sign up for another weekend of silence.

I walk into the monastery on a cold February night. The sisters here respect our silence. They quietly prepare our meals, arrange our bedding for the weekend, make space for us to wander their grounds.

But silence is one thing. And solitude is another.

We can be quiet in the middle of a crowd. And we can be noisy when we’re all alone.

In simple definitions:

Silence is not making noise.

Solitude is being alone because you want to be.

On this weekend, I want to welcome both.

But it’s not easy. For these two nights, solitude means I drive away from home to sleep in a room alone, eat my meals alone, walk the trails alone.

And silence requires even more sacrifice. It means more than not having a conversation with a neighbor. It also means:

  • Not opening the book I want to read
  • Not tuning in to the podcast I want to hear
  • Not texting or tweeting or turning on the TV

Alone. And quiet.

Yet not lonely. Nor deaf.

Activitist and contemplative Phileena Heuertz says,

“Practicing silence helps us develop the ability to listen and discern God’s voice and leading. In solitude, we learn to be present.”

So as I turn off the noise, I tune into God. His still, small voice is amplified in the silence and solitude. His presence is thick. His love is encircling.

I listen more closely. I look up more often. I breathe in more deeply.





And then I drive home.

And I wonder how to maintain the silence and solitude out here.

It requires no monastery. I realize this.

But to find a time and place to quiet my thoughts and be alone with God, even if only a few minutes each day, requires some sacrifice, some intention, some motivation.

To listen more keenly and give God more of my full attention, I must . . .

  • close a door more often,
  • turn off my phone,
  • and say “no” to doing other things.

I’ve committed during Lent to more purposely pursue silence and solitude. It means fasting a little more—of time, of thoughts, of activity.

But fasting from noise to feast on God is a practice worth pursuing.

* * *

For locals, Phileena Heuertz of Gravity is leading the annual Contemplative Outreach Conference on March 5 in Huntsville, Alabama. Topic: Awakening to Transformation Through Solitude, Silence, and Stillness.

Thanks to Linda and Maggie who led our Centering Prayer retreat and provided guided conversation during our group sessions (it wasn’t a 100% silent weekend).

Which is harder for you: to be silent or to be alone? Please share in the comments.

[If you don’t see Phileena’s video “Silence,” click here]

43 thoughts on “Silence or solitude?

  1. Lisha Epperson

    I wish I could join you at the monastery. For now, I’ll have to find peace and solitude in chunks. Maybe a walk through the park or a visit to a local church. In the past my silence and solitude came in the early am hours after everyone was asleep, but I’m trying to be more intentional about it by seeking it at other times too. I loved the images you shared and pray you’ll find more times like this. We all need them – so much. Blessings and thanks for your offering Lisa, you’re the #GiveMeGrace Wordsmith of the Week!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sometimes life in the monastery is quite appealing, yes? 🙂 But it’s not our path, so yes, I join you in seeking solitude in those smaller chunks, Lisha. May the Lord give us grace in finding them. Thanks for the honor on your blog!

  2. Beth

    This monastery reminds me of a little hermitage that I’ve visited a few times over the years called, Vision of Peace, Lisa. It’s in Missouri, built into the soaring bluffs above the river, so you feel like it’s just you and God when you go there. I’m so glad you’re finding your peace to fully be present in your times with God during lent, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Vision of Peace…even the name sounds delightful, Beth! When we moved into our house years ago, we nicknamed it Lago Paz (Peace Lake). There’s something about “peace” that draws us, yes? The Prince of Peace knows how to pull us in.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I felt like that (although to a much lesser degree!) when my kids were little and were asleep at night. Even though I would sleep too, it would always be lightly. I wanted to be able to hear them if they needed me. I’ve been a light sleeper ever since. 😉 Praying you are able to uncoil as needed this week, Andrew.

  3. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I like both, and I suspect many feel that way. I love silence, but I am uncomfortable with it sometimes because of all those raging thoughts that come along with the sudden quiet in my surroundings.
    Solitude is different for me, it’s really just being alone, and giving myself the permission to think and hear. Or get something done because I’m uninterrupted.

    I know you are very drawn to meditative prayer, as I am. I think I’ll be fighting those voices, or trying hard to ignore them for my whole life. But the peace and grace is pretty great, right? Worth the effort for sure.
    How wonderful to have a weekend to dedicate to quiet. Silence and then group chats sounds just perfect.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s always nice to know others understand the beauty and difficultly of this practice. “…those raging thoughts” – yes, I’m quite familiar with those too, Ceil. I’m trying to make peace with them during my contemplative prayer time, instead of being frustrated by them. Just acknowledging their presence is sometimes enough to make them move along. Even after a few years of doing this, I still consider myself a beginner.

  4. Jody Lee Collins

    Yes, yes, yes! I hear this call daily and feel the push back to be alone. Excellent, encouraging word, Lisa. We must leave the world to hear God’s word to us….even if it’s just a walk outside to the deck.
    Your Lenten practice will be greatly rewarded, I’m guessing.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Jody. I pray that I’ll be able to keep up the practice throughout Lent. Even today I wanted to skip my time this afternoon to “do” instead of just to “be.”

  5. Mari-Anna Stalnacke

    Ah. Your weekend of silence and solitude sounds heavenly! “Fasting from noise to feast on God is a practice worth pursuing.” Amen, sister! I yearn this. Finding silence and solitude within family life is a challenge. But, like you said, it is possible. May God give us all we need to find it! Blessings to you, Lisa. And thank you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Having kids in the house does indeed make it hard to find that silence and solitude, Mari-Anna. I remember those days well. Now I have little excuse, except I still put up plenty of excuses anyway. Yes, may the Lord give us what we need to find that time!

  6. June

    My first response to your question was, both! And, oh, what a gift a weekend at the monastery would be for me! You’re right, there is a difference, and I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, but I crave both silence and solitude. Silence is much harder to achieve in my world. Your images bring a measure of peace to my day, Lisa, thank you! A fast from noise, to make room for God, sounds like the perfect Lenten exercise. Blessings on your week, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I thought you might feel the same as I do about silence and solitude. 🙂 Even in the midst of solitude, it still can be hard to find silence. But I do crave both too, June.

  7. Cindy

    Wow!!! I definitely need to learn how to be silent and to practice solitude. Not easy in our culture and I know it hampers my hearing the soft and gentle nudging voice of my God. Thanks for sharing your journey! I love you sweet sister!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Maybe one day we can roam around the monastery together, Cindy. I know you’d love it, especially in the spring when everything is blooming. I tend to always go in the winter, and it’s pretty even then, so I know the spring/summer months would be even more gorgeous. It is a sweet time of fellowship with God, for sure. Love you, too!

  8. Jean Wise

    so glad it was a blessed weekend for you. I know on my silent retreats it takes awhile for the inner noise to dim. It feels like I am slowly shedding layers and get lighter and lights. Wasn’t familiar with Phileena. will explore her site ; i did enjoy the video. I always learn something here, Lisa. Thank you. PS> I go on my silent retreat the end of March.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m excited that you have another silent retreat lined up, Jean. We are being offered a post-intensive retreat in May for 8 days, but I’m not ready for that. And Jeff especially is not. ha. The hardest part for me was not talking with him. We did agree to text in the mornings and nights this past time and that worked out okay. He supports my going (even though he doesn’t understand; he’s not a contemplative type), but he doesn’t like not being able to communicate with me for very long.

      I’m looking forward to learning more from Phileena in March. I hadn’t heard of her either until the retreat, but I like what I’ve learned since.

  9. Kathy

    This is a beautiful meditation in itself Lisa! You share such subtle differences between silence and solitude, both equally potent when we can embrace their offering! I find silence hard, but if I’m able to capture even a few moments it opens up my world wide and beautiful! And solitude I find hiking, kayaking, on my beach walks. Oh so necessary!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I just read your latest blog post (We Weren’t Meant to be Lonely) and it coordinates quite well with mine. I appreciate hearing more of your story there. I agree that loneliness and solitude are two different things; I’m glad you were able to transcend your loneliness and let God develop a place in you for solitude. Sounds like you have it worked out now to include outdoor activities that sound delightful! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree with you, Katie, that busy is definitely the enemy of solitude. It sounds like you’re in a super busy season of life. Praying that things will sort out soon and that God will open the door for some rest for you! For now I hope you’ll grab snippets of rest when you have an opening for them, and not feel guilty about taking time for yourself and God. You deserve the best.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sometimes our backyard is the ideal place to meet with the Lord. Hoping you get that opportunity soon, Betty. My backyard is a muddy, rainy mess right now, so I’m hoping to get away with the Lord elsewhere today. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Debbie. It really was a refreshing weekend. It’s harder to keep that back in the “real” world, but I do know God is with us everywhere we are, so it’s possible!

  10. Natalie

    This is lovely. And I appreciated the definitions of the subtle differences between the two. I’m pretty comfortable with both silence and solitude, although I know I’d be tempted to break extended solitude with the companionship of a book. Your photos here are gorgeous.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That temptation of a book is the one that really gets me too, Natalie. 🙂 I can go without TV for a long time, but it’s hard to go a single day without reading a few pages in a book.

  11. Liz

    I love being alone, but silence is a struggle… I will even talk to myself! But I do try to get out beyond the hustle and bustle of Th city and into the woods to listen to God several times a week! Wish I knew of a monastery near my that offered that service!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do feel blessed to have a monastery within an hour’s drive of my house. And also blessed that they are Benedictines, which is an order of hospitable sisters and brothers. Yes, silence is more of a struggle for me too. I don’t mind keeping quiet myself, but I do like to listen to authors; I never go anywhere without a book. It’s great that you have woods close enough to visit several times a week. Being outside is such a natural way to communicate with God.

  12. Betsy de Cruz

    I really like that definition of solitude, Lisa. Being alone because we want to be. That is so lovely. Yes, silence is hard to come by too. Thanks for your encouragement. I think silence is harder for me, getting away from noise, even when alone. (Right now my daughter’s listening to LOUD music in the kitchen, so I’m thinking I’ll go to the back of the house for quiet!)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Getting away from noise is hard, especially if you live with other people, which most of us do. Being in the empty nest season, I have LOTS more quietness in the house now, and while I miss my daughters living here, I don’t miss the noisiness in and of itself. Glad you can at least go to the back of your house for some quiet. 🙂

  13. Michele Morin

    Like Lisha (above comment) I used to find solitude in the early morning hours, but have also found that with teens keeping late hours, I need my sleep in the morning in order to stay healthy. Finding solitude on walks with a lumbering St. Bernard, seizing moments alone in the house (instead of doing more “practical” things).
    I am drawn to your phrase: Fasting from noise to feast on God.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You make a good point, Michele: we have to be flexible to work within our individual circumstances and our own internal clock in finding the right time for solitude. I have a lot more freedom now since my daughters each have their own homes, but there’s still lots of things to do in a day so I find myself getting stingy with my time. I have to remind myself that a feast awaits if I’ll let go of other things!

  14. floyd

    This is great. Having good intention, well, you know what they say about that and the destination… It’s encouraging that you showed the discipline to follow through. Sacrifice always seems to pay the biggest dividends in God’s economy.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Floyd. It helps me to follow through once I write a check and register for something. 🙂 Otherwise, I’d probably back out of adventures like this at the last minute.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I understand, Lori. We definitely have acclimated to noise in our society, yes? In 2011 we had devastating tornadoes here in Alabama and were without electricity for a week. It was a VERY quiet week. It took a few days to adjust to the silence, but then I grew to enjoy it. Yet when the electricity came back on, I was more than happy to plug back in. 😉

  15. Kelly Chripczuk

    Thank you for sharing your practice, Lisa. I’m participating this year in a monthly silent retreat day, it’s such a good practice for me. I love silence, especially in the company of others – there’s a sweet communion there.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That sounds delightful, Kelly! I wouldn’t have understood that “communion” in practicing silence with others until I experienced it myself. It is a beautiful thing.

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