Column: The Blessings of Silence
By Drew Williams
After multiple surgeries, my body strongly protested and rendered me flat on my back for six months. In 20 years I don’t think I have ever known so much silence. At first it was surprising how loud silence could be. I would spend the day waiting for the family to return to know the comfort of a little noise. But then, once I acclimatized to the silence, on the rare occasions that I ventured out of the house for a medical appointment, I found the world to be an extraordinarily loud place. Doctors’ waiting rooms were cacophonous, and I had forgotten how unfailingly and ridiculously noisy hospitals are. I wonder if in all of this the Lord was softly reminding me of the value of His silence. Here are a few quiet observations:
1. Silence before God heals the malady of too many words. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Words often leave us with a sense of inner defeat. They can create a sense of numbness and a feeling of being bogged down in swampy ground. Often they leave us in a slight depression or in a fog that clouds the window of our mind.” This rings true for me. I confess that there were days when I was so bored with the sound of my own voice. I could hear myself talking on and on in the futile hope that if I just added another sentence, made just one more point, I would have peace. But the peace did not come. Solomon recognized this pattern. He wrote, “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words” (Proverbs 10:19, The Message translation, or MSG).
It was only when our youngest daughter, Olivia, was born that I discovered that we instinctively rock babies at the pace of our own heartbeat! I remember walking up and down the hall with Olivia in my arms in an attempt to soothe her. I found myself instinctively slowing my pace, rocking her in my arms close to my chest. I did not realize it at the time but the rhythm of my heartbeat became her heartbeat. There is a Godly pattern here. David recognized this: “I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content” (Psalm 131:2, MSG). Our silence, in God’s presence, restores the peace that our hearts crave.
2. Silence before God helps maintain the life of the Holy Spirit within us. Jesus modeled this for us in His own life and ministry, and He led the disciples in the same discipline. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31, New International Version). Richard Foster holds out this challenge: “Christians are the only people on the planet who, as they walk into frenzied situations, should have about them an aroma of Christ, a steadiness, and a strength that doesn’t look nervous, frenzied, or overly fretful. People ought to detect that, though everyone else is nervous and running around, the Christian in the room seems to have roots sunk down into something solid. The wind is blowing, but the Christian isn’t on the verge of uprooting.” Psalm 46:10 shows us exactly where we are to sink our roots: “Be still and know that I am God.”
3. Silence before God teaches us to speak… or not. Foster also defines the discipline of silence as “saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said.” I would add: If it needs to be said. Jesus was silent before His accusers and yet His silence was powerful. In the Gospel accounts, John says that Pilate was “afraid” (John 19:8), Mark says Pilate “marveled” (John 15:5), and Matthew says that Pilate “marveled exceedingly” (John 27:14). Nouwen would venture that a word that holds the power of God is a word that comes out of a Spirit-filled silence. He writes, “Out of His eternal silence God spoke the Word, and through His Word created and recreated the world. In the beginning God spoke the land, the sea, the sky. He spoke the sun, the moon and the stars. He spoke plants, birds, fish, animals… Then in the fullness of time, God’s Word through whom all had been created, became flesh and gave power to all who believe to become the children of God.”
Do I need to pursue times of silence before God for my spiritual health? The Lord took my enforced “retreat” as an opportunity to categorically remind me that I absolutely do. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak—and I know where my error lies. Charles Swindoll would take me to task thus: “The road to true intimacy with God is an inward journey, proceeding into His Presence through the entrance gate of quietness of the soul. It is a narrow track that lies well off the beaten path, virtually unseen and ignored by the vast majority of humanity careening headlong through life.”
In all the noise and busyness, I pray that you hear and accept His invitation this day to “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.”
The Rev’d Drew Williams, Senior Pastor of Trinity Church, has been living with severe, debilitating chronic pain for more than three years. He knows the desperation that comes with wondering if he would ever be pain free. At the same time, he shares, “By the grace of God, that desperation has also brought an increased intensity and honesty, as well as a deeper intimacy, in my relationship with God.” He now shares something of his struggle in a series of devotional writings for the Greenwich Sentinel.