Finding the Divine (And Yourself) in Silence, Stillness, and Rest

A lot of us really struggle with silence. This isn’t entirely our fault: silence, stillness, and rest can be hard to find under the capitalist urge to keep working and doing and consuming. Self-care, while it has a place, is also largely centred around doing things rather than just resting, and is still often tied to the idea of ‘self-improvement’.

In response, it’s very easy to retreat into noise as a distraction. When I’m overwhelmed or anxious or bored, I usually try to use noise to block things out or retreat from the world around me. It’s also just hard to find silence, unless you live in the middle of nowhere—and, even then, there might be sound of wind, or animals, or water. It’s equally hard for us to be silent when we are used to being in constant contact with people, whether physically or digitally.

But I also need silence. As someone who has sensory issues around many sounds, I love my noise-cancelling headphones because they allow me to make my world, if not silent, at least a lot quieter. A wide variety of monastic and contemplative traditions across time and around the world use vows or rules of silence as part of their devotions. I’m not necessarily advocating for that: I talk way too much to ever follow one.

While not everyone is cut out to be a silent monk, it’s not difficult to claim that silence is holy. Silence is an important part of religious and secular rituals; we have moments of silence to commemorate someone’s passing, we have periods of silent contemplation in church services, we say silent prayers. Similarly, stillness is part of meditative and devotional practices across many faiths.

But what about rest? What about silence and stillness for their own sake, rather than to allow to you to focus more clearly on God?

We’ve all been told that rest is important by every doctor and health influencer we come across, and probably by our supervisors or lecturers too, even as they pile on more work. ‘Eight hours of sleep is sooooo important for your skin!’ claims a spray-tanned young woman, pulling her bleached hair into a high ponytail as she starts her skincare routine. ‘You should sleep more,’ says a tutor when they notice how exhausted you are. Of course, the same tutor will inevitably write that you need to ‘spend more time working on your coursework’ on the feedback for your next assignment.

You’ve probably heard a sermon or two about how people in the Bible took breaks when they needed to, how God rested after creation, how Jesus would retreat into the wilderness to escape the constant demands of people on his time and attention. ‘Make sure you take time to rest and listen to God!’

But what about resting just for you?

What about purposefully saying ‘I am taking this time as rest, because I need it’? Rest is more than just sleep or skin care routines. There is an excellent TED talk on the seven kinds of rest, which I’ll link below, but needless to say, even if you are doing something that you love and find fulfilling, you still need to take breaks. Proper breaks, not like the breaks I took in uni where I would ‘take a break’ from an assignment by working on a different assignment, or ‘take a break’ from stressing about work in my house by stressing about work in a café with a friend, or ‘take a break’ during uni holidays by cramming in as many hours at my part-time job as possible. None of these things are actually restful. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, just that they are not a sustainable long-term plan for a healthy and balanced lifestyle or a high degree of emotional stability.

We don’t just need to sleep, we need time to quiet our minds, to sit in stillness and silence and truly rest. We also need time to rest by doing things that aren’t strictly productive, like hobbies. To just sit and do something and enjoy it, rather than use it as a form of distraction or procrastination. And finally, we need to rest by taking a break even from the people and causes we love so that we don’t get burnt out and frustrated. It’s hard to do that when you have a lot on, or when you feel like people need you. But as my favourite graffiti in Edinburgh says, ‘Survival is a radical act.’ Giving yourself time is sometimes the most radical thing you can do.

And if you need Biblical support, there’s always the story in 1 Kings about Elijah taking a rest. You’ve probably seen the viral tweet about it. Elijah was running for his life, fleeing from the threat of execution, and hiding in the wilderness. He finally sits down under a solitary tree and tells God he wants to die. He no longer feels like he is fit for the duty God has given him and he just wants to be left alone to perish in the wilderness. And then he falls asleep. God appears, wakes him, feeds him, and tells him to go back to sleep. Later, God wakes him and feeds him again. And after taking some time to rest, Elijah is once again ready to get going.

All this is to say that sometimes resting isn’t just taking a break from uni work to go to church. Sometimes it’s also skipping church to play video games. Sometimes it’s declining an offer to go out with friends even though you’re not busy. And none of that is something to feel guilty for. You can find the Divine in silence, certainly. But you also can just find yourself again.

God will not blame you for having a rest. And no one else should either.


The 7 types of rest that every person needs | (