Silence & Solitude

I enjoy company, but I need time alone. As an introvert, silence and solitude are my close confidantes. If I couldn’t come home after a day of being assaulted by unwanted sounds and distractions, close the door to my apartment, and hear nothing (or what qualifies for nothing in this city), I wouldn’t be able to function.

I need time and space in my day that is free from interruptions—time when no one and nothing is demanding my attention. I need silence and solitude to wade into myself and discover the full depth of my thoughts and feelings. Noise keeps my thinking shallow. Distractions keep me at the surface of myself. To go deeper—to really dive into thought or fully submerge myself in an idea, I need a modicum of silence. And the harder I need to think, the quieter I need it to be. I’m not the type of person who can concentrate on serious work in front of the TV.

For me, silence is precious. I treasure it. Solitude is like a light that helps me to see myself. It illuminates my shadows. I bask in it. Through solitude, I am replenished. I can find thoughts I’ve lost track of. I can be a good friend to myself by paying attention to my inner world.

In silence, I can shake off the burdens of the day. Silence makes room for me to lay down and inspect whatever worries or fears I’ve been carrying with me. In silence and solitude I can hear my quietest inner voice—the one deep within that knows me best—the one that gets muted or ignored when life gets loud or I get stressed.

Time alone helps me to slow down. I become less apt to rush by and miss life’s sweet-smelling roses. Time to myself makes me a better friend. If I haven’t had a sufficient dose of solitude, it’s harder for me to listen to you.

Silence and solitude guide me. They are the paths by which I enter into my deepest self-knowledge. I can be still. I can let go of the weights and worries of the world. I can close my eyes, take a deep breath, relax, and rest within myself.

We Need God for Life

Sometimes when I’m feeling inadequate, I think about bananas and plantains. Bad bananas make the best banana bread. Similarly, when a plantain looks its most rotten (black and shriveled and dusty), that’s when it’s sweetest.

It is from this that I draw some understanding of redemption, not only the saving of our souls, but the good that can come from the corrupted.

I am aware of how much in Christianity (or faiths claiming to be Christianity) has been contorted into cruel and harmful words, practices, and beliefs. Even with the best of intentions, anything touched by human hands is inherently lacking. We’re all imperfect beings.

What I find truly miraculous and hopeful, however, is how we broken people, we sinners, we betrayers of love, can be used for things that are better than the sum of our lying, stealing, coveting, conceited, violent, or otherwise unloving parts.

We are like rotten bananas in God’s hands. He doesn’t erase our weaknesses (although sometimes that is exactly what happens), often He leaves us flawed and puts us in a position where that event, experience, or characteristic (e.g., a past hurt, loss, or mistake) is beneficial in some way. Like rotten bananas making good banana bread, because of (not just in spite of) our hurts and imperfections, we inspire each other, support each other, guide, confide in, and advise each other. We gain and share wisdom and empathy. We are role models. We are cautionary stories.

Years ago I was watching an episode of Wife Swap in which a God-fearing, black woman was switching places with a white (multi-colored, actually—she had so many tattoos) atheist. One thing the atheist said reverberated in my mind: she accused Christians of using God and their faith in Him as a crutch. I had heard that indictment before, and it had never sat well with me, but this time I heard it from a different vantage point: Who says needing a crutch is a bad thing?

God is indeed my crutch, and that’s a good thing. I am limping through life because I am broken. I need His support. He literally sustains me every day. The atheist on Wife Swap was acting as though humans are completely healthy—emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually—but we’re not. Everyone in this world is broken in one way or another—internally or by an outside force.

We all need a crutch to get through life. Some of us develop defense mechanisms like sarcasm or seek insight through therapy. Some of us turn to hobbies, addictions, or habits—anything that keeps us in the shallows of our minds—distracted. Some strive after wealth, health, popularity, perfection, or knowledge. Others try to feel better by making others feel worse. There are a lot of things out there that people can cling to in an attempt to prop themselves up. We’re all self-medicating something. I choose God. I am broken, and He is my benevolent crutch.

Like a crutch, God is not necessarily an instantaneous fix for what ails us (although that too is possible). The crutch is not the cure; it is a complement to the healing. The crutch is there so that as our body mends, we’re still able to make progress—to proceed despite our pain and injury. Similarly, God comes to support us, to bear us up so that—despite our brokenness—we can move through life. And as we lean on Him, we find that the healing is able to begin because we’re not putting all our weight on whatever part of us isn’t able to bear all that pressure—the burden.

Now most people need a crutch for a discrete amount of time. Unfortunately, what’s wrong with us (humanity) isn’t temporary. We’re maimed for life. So we’re not like the woman who has broken her leg and only needs crutches for a finite length of time. We’re more akin to the man with cerebral palsy or someone who’s had an amputation. We need God for life.

And here’s the brilliant thing about God—the thing that makes Him infinitely better than a crutch—He uses us just as we are. We’re not sidelined by our flaws or benched because we’re not good enough. He sees us limping along, trying to depend on Him, but not quite comfortable in that position—still wanting to assert our independence—perhaps even resisting Him, and He uses it all.

Consider how much we’d praise a physician who could not just heal patients, but use their maladies to improve the prognosis for others who are ailing. That’s what God does. He uses hurting and broken people to help heal the hurting and broken. He empowers the damaged to repair the damage that has been done to, by, and for others. Ignorance, intolerance, inequality, violence, exploitation, addiction, abuse, and more—all the things that have broken our world, the broken are trying to fix them.

Don’t worry that you’re inadequate or flawed. Learn from, but don’t dwell on, your past—what you have or haven’t done. Just as you are, you can help. All of who you are—the good, the bad, and the broken—is relevant. We’re all rotten bananas—soft, bruised, and blemished. But if we’re honest and loving, we “bad bananas” will make good banana bread.