Tag Archives: Silence

The Wisdom of Silence

But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply….
2 Kings 18:36 (NIV)

Wendy’s and my morning routine begins each day meeting in our dining room for breakfast. Our dining room looks east over our back yard and the field of prairie grass behind it. If the sun isn’t too bright we get to watch the sun rise up over the tree line as we drink our respective tea and coffee and catch up on the news of the morning.

Of late Wendy and I have been reading a lot about the outbursts that are happening all over the States from college campuses to the streets and parks of various cities. As most of us know, it spills over into social media where it seems one cannot share a reasoned, personal opinion without getting pummeled, insulted and threatened by strangers or people you barely know. Just a few weeks ago my friend Dr. Bob shared with me a brief glance at the vitriolic string of threatening comments and emails he’d received after his editorial appeared in the New York Times. We are living in reactive times.

During our quiet morning conversations Wendy and I have mulled over a couple of thoughts about this entire trend. First, at least in some cases the screams and conflict are meant to create a reaction and the press coverage that goes along with it. National attention is exactly what some groups desire to recruit like minded individuals and financial support. Second, we live in an unprecedented age of 24/7 news coverage from endless outlets competing for ratings and advertising dollars. These news outlets have a need for news they can report and keep audience attention. I wonder, at times, how complicit the media is in creating or sustaining the conflicts with their coverage to the point that it gets blown out of proportion compared to the reality of the situation. Finally, it has come to light that another country had agents trolling American social media during our election year stirring up reactive anger between those of opposing political views. They believed that the conflict would be destabilizing. Mission accomplished. Welcome to a new era of cyber warfare: stimulating your enemies to destroy themselves from within.

This came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter about a very ancient conflict. The Assyrian empire was blitzing its way through the region. They destroyed Israel and were now at the gates of the walled city of Jerusalem. The strategy for thousands of years of siege warfare was for the raiding army to send its best communicator to have a parley with the besieged city’s leaders. The city officials would stand on the wall and the besieging army’s mouthpiece would stand below and yell up at them. The goal was to threaten, cajole, and intimidate those in the city into giving up.

The Assyrian commander comes to wall of Jerusalem and does his best to smack talk the people of Judah into fear. He tells them not to listen to their king, not to trust their God, and to look at how things ended up for their other enemies. For added effect he throws in that a long siege would result in them being so starved for food and drink that they’d eat and drink their own excrement.

But then the scribes record that the people said nothing. They didn’t react in anger. They didn’t talk smack back. They didn’t take the bait. They remained silent.

This morning I’m reminded that the teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely reminds us “there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.” I’m reminded that when brought before the kangaroo court of His accusers bent on state-sanctioned homicide, Jesus remained silent. There is a time for discussion and reasoned debate. There are times to raise our voices in protest. But there are also times like the people of Judah before the Assyrian parley when we need the wisdom to be silent and ignore the taunts of others.

God, grant me the wisdom to know when to speak, when to be silent, and the discernment to know the difference.

[Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a breakfast date with Wendy down in the dining room.] Have a great week everyone.]

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

Hush Up

Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel!
Deuteronomy 27:9 (NRSV)

We grow up being continuously hushed.

  • Be quiet. Your mom is sleeping.
  • Be quiet. Dad and I are trying to watch this.
  • I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Go to sleep.
  • Be quiet, class. Eyes up here.
  • Listen up, team!
  • Shhhhh!

The truth is that it’s difficult to hear amidst all the noise. Even Jesus said, “those who have ears to hear, listen to me.” But in order to listen we have to silence, or tune out, all the other noise around us.

I’m not sure that there has been another time in human history that is as noisy as the time we’re living in. We are deluged by noise. Noise from ever present phones that beep, buzz, and blare. Noise from televisions that are constantly on in the background. Noise from endlessly streaming playlists. Noise from planes, trains, and automobiles. The noise, at times, seems never ending.

So, how am I supposed to hear myself think?

How am I supposed to hear what my loved ones are really saying?

How am I supposed to hear God’s still, small voice in my spirit?

Today, as I switch off the satellite music channel playing in my office, I’m thinking about my need for quiet. I’m contemplating the reality of noise becoming an ever present distraction in my life. I wonder how much I miss because even when I try to listen I cannot hear myself, or God through the din.

Today, I’m consciously choosing to hush up, and listen.

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featured image: Nuno Martins via Flickr

Presence and Silence in a Friend’s Dark Hour

Job and FriendsThen [Job’s three friends] sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:13 (NIV)

Along life’s journey we all have times of tragedy and of suffering. I have observed and experienced that our western culture, by and large, does not handle these stretches of life’s journey well. In a culture that celebrates temporal success and material excess, suffering of any kind tends to be approached with ignorance (“I have no idea what to do or say”), with discomfort (“I don’t want to be around him/her. It will just depress me”), and even with outright suspicion and derision (“They must have done something wrong. I don’t want to be associated with him/her.”).

For several years, Wendy and I aggressively attempted to bring a child into this world together. I have not shared very openly about it. Some day I know I will write more about my experiences. Not yet. Though Wendy and I have pressed on in our journey together, at times the soul wounds feel acutely fresh.

I will share, however, that this period of our lives was a very lonely time. My heart and soul were taken to places on life’s road that I did not desire to go. Even among our family and our closest friends I observed the struggle to know how to approach the subject, what to say, or how to help. Because of ignorance, discomfort, or suspicion there were many who simply avoided the subject around which our lives were painfully centered.

In today’s chapter, I was struck by our initial introduction to Job’s three friends. We will learn more about them in the days ahead, but for the moment I found myself impressed by two things.

First, Job’s friends showed the courage to put aside whatever discomfort, confusion, or suspicion they may have felt to consciously step into Job’s presence. They were not deterred by Job’s suffering but seem to be compelled by their friendship to be present with Job in the midst of it. That simple act of being present with someone in their pain is the evidence of love.

Second, I observed that for seven days Job’s friends said nothing. Wise King Solomon tells us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. It sometimes takes Solomon’s wisdom to discern between the two. I believe that Job’s friends initially choose the path of wisdom in their silence. There is nothing to say at this point that will be of comfort to Job.

I am reminded this morning of conversations I’ve had with grieving family members after the funeral of a loved one. People have often spoken to me of the comfort and encouragement they took by an individual’s presence at the funeral, despite the fact that they did not talk or interact with that individual. It was that individual’s choice to be present in their dark hour of grief which was meaningful. No words had to be spoken.

Today, I am taking stock of family and friends who have been faithfully present along the dark stretches of my journey. I am also confessing my own fault at letting discomfort, confusion, and suspicion deter me from being present with others whom I love in their own dark hours. I want to be a better, more courageous and more loving friend to others as I understand what it means to do so in difficult times.

Letting Silence Do the Heavy Lifting

 

source: Sarith C via Flickr
source: Sarith C via Flickr

When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1 (NIV)

Silence is loud.

In my work as a Quality Assurance analyst (e.g. “your call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes…”) I’ve learned that a Customer Service Representative has roughly seven seconds of unexplained silence before the customer on the other end of the line begins to get nervous. We live in a world of noise and we are increasingly comfortable with the constancy of sound. So much so that silence gets uncomfortable. In fact, my friend who is a therapist has often talked to me about how silence can be an effective tool for motivating a person to reflect and respond. “I let silence to the heavy lifting,” he tells me.

It was silence that leapt off the page this morning. The first verse of today’s chapter is unique. Whenever heaven is described throughout God’s Message it’s a noisy place. God’s throne room is always described as being filled with sounds of music, prayers, praise, and thunder. Today, we read that that there was dead silence. Not just for seven seconds but for almost a half hour. There’s some seriously heavy spiritual lifting going on.

I like to start my mornings in quiet. It’s not perfectly silent, of course. Even with my hearing problems I can clearly hear traffic and all sorts of morning noises. Nevertheless, before the chaos and noise of the day begins to pollute my senses I like to have a short time of getting quiet and acknowledge God’s presence. I let the silence do the heavy lifting and unearth what I need to address or confess so that I can find a bit of spiritual alignment before things get really crazy.

Shhhhhhhh!

 

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Wisdom is Knowing When to Remain Silent

A reporter raises his hand to ask a question a...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
Proverbs 29:2o (NLT)

I remember watching a press conference on television many years ago. The press were gathered around the podium of the official in a huddled mass. Cameras were clicking and whirring. There was a din of activity in the room as they pushed in around the speaker. Bright lights blazed in his eyes and a gaggle of people pressed in on the man from behind as well as in front.

A reporter fired a question at him. There was silence as the speaker stood and looked down at the podium. Seconds passed. Murmurs rose among the press. Cameras clicked as the speaker said nothing, but continued to look down with furrowed brow. You could feel the sense of curiosity in the room. It became almost a panic. What was wrong? What was happening? Why wasn’t he saying anything? The reporter fired another question at the official who immediately held up his hand and interrupted the reporter.

“Give me just a moment, please. I’m thinking about your question and I want to respond to it appropriately, but I find it better to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth.”

I’ve never seen anyone in a press conference say or do anything like that before. It stuck in my memory and I’ve never forgotten it. Here was a wise man who was not going to be bullied by the pressure of the moment and a chaotic press corp rifling questions at him. He understood Solomon’s words.

A mentor of mine used to consistently pray this prayer: “Lord, help me to know when to speak, and when to be silent.” I find myself repeating it often in my own whispered plea. When caught off guard it is foolish to speak without thinking. Better to say nothing than to say something foolish that will haunt you ever after.

I’m Keeping My Mouth Shut

Detail from Netherlandish Proverbs
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor;
    a sensible person keeps quiet.
Proverbs 11:12 (NLT)

One the reasons I value our daily venture into God’s Message is that it often reminds and keeps me from doing stupid things that I would later regret.

For example, there is a certain fool who operates within my circles of influence. I call him a fool because his actions have been consistent with those of a fool described right in the proverbs we’re reading. A while back he put himself in a high position and caused me and my pride an invisible little injury. It was not a major wound, but one of those nagging ones that starts to itch just when you think it’s healed over. Because of his foolishness, this “neighbor” of mine has given me plenty of opportunities to belittle him, and more than one opportunity to publicly humiliate him. I confess that I spent more time thinking about it than I should, but I’ve oublicly kept my mouth shut and constrained my conversation about the matter to my closest confidants.

As much as it would satisfy my pride and ego to take him down a notch or two, I have been continually reminded that my role is to forgive and not to seek out some sort of eye for an eye vengeance no matter how small the injury or the payback. This neighbor of mine is on his own journey. God is working in his life as well. I have already witnessed the truth of the proverbs as his foolishness has and will bring upon him its own negative consequences.

God is in control of the matter, and He does not need me and my desire for payback muddying up the works. It would only bolster my neighbors belief that I deserved the original injury he caused. And, it would ultimately hurt me more than it would him. So, I will keep my mouth shut, scratch the scab on the wound that itches me now and again, and choose to forgive one more time (I have a ways to go to reach the “seventy times seven” ;-)).