One summer evening in an Italian monastery, I sat cross-legged on a gravelly wall overlooking a valley. The sky was a dull, sunset orange and the air was filled with cicada song. I was sitting there, silently, watching and waiting for the first star to shine out.
While I waited, I listened, feeling like God was leading me into that silent space to find Him there. Yet despite this conviction, I was more than a little bit nervous. It can be scary to be silent: when you strip away noise and distraction all that’s left is you, the wide sky and the voice of God.
What will you find as you listen? Who, or what, is residing at the centre of your heart? As you search, hand in hand with God, you pray and hope and question and wait.
Doubts rise to the surface: maybe you don’t doubt that God exists, but maybe you do doubt that He is always good and always loving – that He gives grace enough to transform every situation, every memory, and every part of who you are into something more than beautiful.
This is what I was confronted with as I sat on that gravelly monastery wall. As I listened for God, I felt the weight of the silence settle on my empty hands and heart, and I saw, perhaps for the first time, the marks of old wounds that I hadn’t let heal completely.
I saw shame and hurt in tension with memories of happy times; I saw the ways that I’d tried to cover up and suppress my own feelings of inadequacy – in relationships and friendships, in studies and other responsibilities. I saw the things that I’d hidden which now unsettled my identity, that had the potential to shake who I was.
I questioned, in seeing these things, whether God could help me even here. Whether I could call him ‘Father’ even now.
And as I questioned, I heard truth. I heard that God loves me no matter what; that He heals wounds when you give Him permission to; that day-by-day He is making me new.
For you see: doubt is not the opposite of faith. Silence is not the opposite of sound.
In my faith that God is there, I can take to him my questions and my doubts about who I am, who He is, and what the world is like, letting the hidden things come to the surface and be changed by God’s grace. I can enter into silence and hear the fullness of his voice speaking truth and transforming my doubt into a stronger faith; I can find His healing in my hurt and be released to greater joy.
I sat listening to these truths, finding the weight of silence on my heart grow lighter. As the last embers of the sun glowed just beyond the horizon, the first silver star appeared and shone out in the sky above the valley. I stood, smiled and walked barefoot across the monastery grass, leaving that gravelly wall feeling more whole than before.
I had begun to learn to say this one simple prayer: