A study by a professor at the University of Virginia showed a majority of more than 700 participants found it “unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just six to 15 minutes.”
Not only that, but there was an electric shock mechanism in the room, and 64% of men and 15% of women self-administered shocks to divert their thoughts.
The point is this: People push back against silence and being alone with their thoughts because it can be scary.
“A good friend of mine says, ‘I believe most people need a good reason to do something that doesn’t come naturally. Quiet doesn’t come naturally for most of us,’” said Kurt Sauder, founder of Further Still Ministries, which helps believers in Jesus enjoy an abundant relationship with their Savior. “We are so into our technology and social media, and I’m not saying all that is bad, but if we say, ‘OK. I’m going to put that down. I’m going to be still and lean into silence and solitude and quiet and peace. Even people who love the Lord, I don’t think that comes naturally.”
Sauder said silence and solitude are spiritual practices, and that means they require work and discipline.
“In one sense, it’s a lot like doctors. They practice medicine because to a degree there’s a science to it, but there’s also a practice to it the more that they fine tune, get better, work at it, learn, adapt and adjust,” Sauder added. “Tom Brady didn’t become Super Bowl champion six times because it became all natural to him. He practiced. That’s the same way with the spiritual practices. Silence and solitude and being quiet and resting are all spiritual practices. If we’re not used to that, we need to lean into that.”
When Sauder had four young children, he and his wife trained them to have “quiet time” by setting the microwave timer to 30 seconds and increased it by five seconds every day.
“You think, ‘Wow. Five seconds. That’s not that much.’ I’ll never forget, though, when we worked up to three minutes,” he said. “Before you know it, we’re having these 15 minutes of total quiet time with our kids teaching them the beauty of Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ We can train ourselves how to do this.”
Through Further Still Ministries, Sauder guides men on desert days. Each desert day usually lasts from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with roughly eight to 10 men meeting at Hopewell House in Louisville.
The majority of the time is spent in silence and solitude and includes Bible reading and study, memorizing Scripture, prayer, journaling, reading Christian literature and two group debriefs.
“We can be productive and get a lot done. That’s our American culture, and that’s a beautiful thing,” Sauder said. “But there’s something to saying, ‘God, I think You can get a lot more done than I can. I’m going to let You work ahead of me in ways that I can’t see, and I’m going to trust that You’ll do immeasurably more.’ I remember Kristen (Sauder’s wife who died in 2014) used to say, ‘I’m tired of seeing what I can get done. I want to see what God can get done.’”
Sauder suggests two reasons to take a desert day: to develop a rhythm of rest and to help when making big decisions.
Sauder was making one of those big decisions about 20 years ago.
“I’m being offered a job at Southeast to become the men’s pastor, but I thought I was going to go to my buddy’s church because I’m also having the opportunity to be close to my hometown area in Illinois,” Sauder said. “He says, ‘Dude, you need to do a desert day.’ I go, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘Do what Jesus did. Get in the desert. It doesn’t have to be a desert desert, but go be alone.’”
Sauder uses a jar of murky lake water to illustrate the effects of a desert day.
“The lake water became still and that’s when clarity happened. It wasn’t this mountaintop experience or Mount of Transfiguration. There weren’t fireworks from heaven going off. No angel appeared to me, but I walked away going that was really good. In some ways it was hard. I go, ‘God is saying Louisville, Kentucky, Southeast Christian.’”
Since that time, Sauder has gone on a desert day by himself once a month for the past 20 years and has offered group desert days since 2014.
If you are interested in joining Sauder on a guided desert day, sign up at www.furtherstillministries.org/events/desert-days/.
A nonrefundable $10 fee is charged to reserve your spot (breakfast and lunch are provided).