Silence Is Golden

“Sometimes it seems that our many words are more an expression of our doubt than our faith. It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help Him out with many words, convince others of His power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief which quenches the fire.”

(Henri Nouwen)

Poor Job. In the worst season of his life, he just needed some support. What did he get? Like Eliza Doolittle, the man was inundated with “Words, words, words!” Lots of talking. Little support.

Have you ever been there? The darkness is a scary place to sit, out there all alone on your ash heap, scraping your wounds and soul with jagged pottery. Trying to understand. How could everything go so horribly wrong in such a ludicrously short span of time? The questions fizz upward like the contents of a champagne flute, but there’s nothing worth celebrating here. No toasts to be made. The world heaves in your chest, and breathing seems more than you can humanly manage.

Enter your friends with their appropriately downcast faces, lowering themselves next to you and releasing their sobs into the night. No words, just the ministry of presence, of vulnerability, of empathy. Their wordlessness is balm to your soul, and they extend it to you with broken grace. The rare gift of a prolonged pause gives you the space you need to process.

This is where we’ll pretend they keep quiet and aid in supernatural healing, Christ incarnate.

We know better, though. Like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, words pour out into the pain around us in torrents. Why? Maybe because trying to fix the problem is infinitely more comfortable than co-experiencing the pain of the problem.

Time to confess: I don’t “suffer with” well. I’m a problem solver, a get things done kind of girl. If you bring your brokenness anywhere near me, I’ll be tempted to grab my colored pens and plan a bullet-listed way out. (Read this book, see this counselor, talk to these people, study these verses, spend some time in prayer…) Because who wants to hear, “I have no idea what to say to you right now”? Do you see what I’ve done there? I’ve managed to make someone else’s great darkness about me. To be so caught up in how I will look that their very real pain is minimized to a puzzle my dazzling brilliance can solve if given the chance.

According to Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” When will my heart be convinced that there is a sacred safety in silence? God’s Spirit can move more powerfully in the pause than I ever could, and yet I don’t shut up.

My abundance of words in the face of suffering is a multidirectional murderer. Outwardly, it’s a form of offense, pride welling up in my own greatness. Together, we can fix this problem. Of course we can. Life and death are in the tongue, and there’s no telling how many God opportunities I’ve slaughtered by talking someone to death. Inwardly, it’s a defense mechanism, a forcefield of self-protection fueled by unbelief. If I don’t deeply feel with you, I don’t have to wrestle with the inevitable hard questions and my own woeful inadequacy. Because I won’t be loved if I can’t earn my keep.

This is where the gospel breaks its best news ever to my pride and unbelief. It sounds a little something like this:

Let go. You don’t have to rescue. There is a Hero, and you’re not it. Rest in what I’ve accomplished. Receive what I’ve got planned. Grab this precious one’s hand and come to Me. There is peace waiting for you both when you’re finished trying to be enough for her, so come empty. I’ve got what she needs, and I’ve got what you need. My love for you doesn’t depend on your adequacy here. You can both come undone. I’m the safe place to fall apart, and I’m not going anywhere. Give up your search for the right answers and sit with Me in the questions.

And then the freedom of self-forgetfulness sweeps away my need to save her and my need to protect myself. I become a burden bearer, a conduit to the cross that’s good news for us both. When my words run out, healing can begin.

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