“Let the silences speak.”
A few years ago I was sitting in the living room of my friends’ (who also happened to be my next-door-neighbors) home, and after an evening of food, laughter, games and conversation, I carried this phrase home with me.
We were discussing church and our lives in general and how we often feel the need to fill every moment with something. We have an explanation for everything. We feel guilt when we don’t pray. There is a constant cacophony of sound within and around us. We are uncomfortable with silence. We avoid it. We run from it. We hide.
I’m currently reading Jefferson Bethke’s new book It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die, (which you should go buy RIGHT NOW) and he beautifully observes Christ’s approach to silence:
“…the noise of life can sometimes mute God’s soft whisper of belovedness. But then something crazy happens. Jesus’ hair is still wet [from baptism] as he starts walking toward the wilderness. He goes to the unknown. The place of chaos. The place where Israel wandered for years and years and years. Where they failed. Where people died. A place of silence. That’s where the future gets ripped into the present” (83).
I have felt God’s silence palpably in this season of my life. Let me be clear; I have never doubted God’s existence, nor have I rejected my core belief that He is a good God who calls me beloved, but I have been yearning to hear His voice and the silence has been deafening. I doubt myself perpetually. I have prayed to be challenged and stretched, and when God provides the opportunity for growth, I tend to flee in fear. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Almost two weeks ago I was in a hospital room, sitting next to my grandfather (“Poppy”) in what would be his last days. It was a time of joy and sorrow, rejoicing and mourning, all of which was keenly felt at his funeral service. In that hospital room we laughed, we sang hymns, we ate, we told stories, we slept, we comforted, we wept. It was a sacred time. One night I was discussing theology with my pastor (who was a constant presence and source of peace) and our conversation landed upon this topic. He told me, “it’s in the silence that God trusts us most.” The profundity of that statement resonated with me deeply.
God, don’t trust me quite yet. I’m not ready. I need to hear You.
I recently finished reading Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again. This was a book I bought probably a year ago and occupied space on my shelf since then. I didn’t need it then like I need it now.
So much of this book captured the cry of my heart and the feelings I was unable to articulate. That’s what I love most about literature. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best:
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
Back to Yancey’s book… The first chapter is titled “Silence” and he tells about God gathering the Israelites around Mount Sinai, where Moses has been at the top. This is where God reveals the Ten Commandments, but he points out something that was told to him that I find fascinating:
“…the first letter of the commandments God speaks to the people is the Hebrew letter aleph, which is not a letter that produces a sound, but a glottal stop. It is a letter of silence. When God speaks the commandments to the Israelites from the mountain, in the midst of all that fire and lightning, the first sound God gives them is the sound of God’s silence. Then after the silence comes the declaration and the promise, ‘I am the Lord your God’ “(22).
I have felt ignored, overlooked, and even at times rejected by God because of this silence, instead of remembering that there is a purpose in everything. God does not make mistakes. I have not been seeing this silence as purposeful. I have cast my own imperfections onto my perfect God, and they don’t belong there.
If you’re still with me and reading this, I thank you. Perhaps you have also found yourself in a wilderness season of late. I hope that these words provide the comfort and encouragement that other’s testimonies have provided me.
I’ll leave you with the wisdom Yancey received from a friend:
“It’s time for you to stop spending all your time trying to get God back and realize that God truly is right here, right in your midst, and God’s spread a table before you…Maybe, maybe it’s time for you to stop chattering away and finally keep silent so that you can actually hear God whisper. Stop doing. Stop striving. Stop…You’re in the middle space. You’re on the plateau. Here is the table before you. This is the wilderness. You have arrived somewhere. God has brought you to somewhere. He said it would be about trust, and, you see, it is. You’re in this somewhere space, this wilderness space…Now, go have a look around” (33).
God promises to never leave us or forsake us. The silence teaches us to hear Him more fully. He is unchanging, unwavering, and the power of love He showed for me, for you, for all of us on the cross resounds through all of creation so that even the wilderness will hear the echo.