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The Table Video

Ruth Haley Barton

If You're Stuck and Selfish, Try Solitude and Silence

Is “the peace that transcends understanding” elusive? Ruth Haley Barton tells a story about being “a jar of river water all shaken up.” What she needed was to sit still long enough for the sediment to settle, and the water to clear. For her, that meant a commitment to spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence.


I was still aware of places where I was stuck, places where I was still basically selfish, places where I was driven by performance and wobbly in terms of my own identity. There was unrest at the core of my being and I had walked with God for a long time.

And so, someone who saw what I was going through suggested a spiritual director and that spiritual director said to me one day in our times together, she said, “Ruth, you’re like a jar of river water, “all shaken up, and what you need is “to sit still long enough so the sediment “can settle and the water can become clear.”

And that moment was as significant as anything else that’s ever happened in my spiritual life. For me, it all began with solitude and silence because I had been functioning in such a busy way, even in my Christian life, I am a pastor’s kid, and so I had learned the traditional quiet time, I’d listened to preaching all my life, I’d been involved in all the small group models you could think of.

I was all riled up on the inside, and that peace that passes understanding was elusive to me, I didn’t know what it would be like to have that kind of peace, as the characteristic of my soul, and so I was very compelled and called by that invitation and the idea that my soul could become like the place where the jar of river water had sat still long enough.

I wanted it more than anything, I wanted the intimacy with God that I felt certain could come beyond all the words, that there was a kind of communion and intimacy for me and God that I was not yet experiencing it, and it came, and it has come, and it continues to come through the practice of solitude and silence. [soulful music]