Stillness: From Advent Lesson to New Year’s Resolution

It’s probably because I’m not good at keeping them, but I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions. I usually try to adjust things as the year goes on rather than keeping to some master list of goals. This year, however, it just so happens that one of the adjustments that I feel I need to make coincides with the New Year.

For much of my life, I’ve joked that I am addicted to worry and anxiety, and while said in jest, it really is true. Sometimes no matter how small or large the worry, I tend to let it consume my thoughts. That has been the case for me the last couple of months. For various reasons, my life has been filled with an unusual amount of anxiety lately.

One night, in the midst of this, I was struggling to sleep. It was the first week of Advent, and my mind was racing with all the things I needed to do before Christmas and the end of the year. In between darting thoughts, the refrain from the popular advent hymn My Soul in Stillness Waits echoed in my head. The words “For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you” became an internal meditation that eventually helped me get to sleep.

From the next morning on, I began to reflect on the text of the entire hymn. The words focus on patience, hope and peacefully asking God to draw us nearer to him. This type of spirituality does not come easily to me. My head is constantly full of noise. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, most of it is just pointless, but all of it can create interference when seeking quiet. Most of this noise is attributed to the fact that along with my addiction to anxiety, I also have an addiction to information, which aggravates that anxiety like caffeine does insomnia.

Despite my love for technology, I recognize its role as the enabling force that feeds my irrational hunger for information. I don’t think I can remember the last time I waited in line at the grocery store or spent some other idle time without pulling out my phone to check Twitter, Facebook, or some other web content while thinking that there surely must be something new and urgent for me to know.

In a world that is constantly blasting meaningless noise, even in the few quiet moments, I tend to fill even the smallest open spaces with more noise. Even my prayer life is more of me talking than listening. With 16 waking hours of my day filled with constant, often self-created noise, it is no wonder that when stress and anxiety hit, I struggle to find peace.

So, what is the lesson? What is the resolution going forward? For me and, perhaps, those like me, it’s about controlling what I can control. It’s about reclaiming the times that I subject myself to needless noise, information and anxiety. Maybe it’s going to bed without my iPad in hand or not carrying my phone with me every moment of the day. It could be as simple as turning off the TV for a while each evening.

More importantly, it is about making space for God. It’s the common lesson of Advent and Christmas. Making room for God’s love in our life opens the door for His unending joy to fill us. This has long been the approach of the great saints and mystics of the Church.

As New Year’s Day ushers in 2013, and the seasons of Advent and Christmas begin to fade from memory, I am resolving to find more silence and more stillness each day. The more space that God fills in our lives, the less room there is for anxiety and worry. Christian mystic and author of “Dark Night of the Soul”, St. John of the Cross may have put it best when he wrote, “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language He best hears is silent love.”