The Spiritual Discipline of Silence
““Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
Two years ago this past Wednesday, (August 8, 2016), tragedy struck the family of a dear family that I have had the privilege of working with and getting to know. And I was there literal moments after it happened (you can read about it HERE). My family and I spent the next few hours there, at her home, helping in any way that we could. That day I learned more about pastoral ministry than I had in two years of seminary…
I had freshly graduated with my Masters in Theological Studies some three months prior, and working for a Christian Child Welfare non-profit. My wife and I also ran the children’s ministry at our church at the time, so working with children and families was, and still is, something that has come easy to me. However, this day, nothing came easy. Nothing had prepared me for what I had to do that day, for what I witnessed that day. In the moments and minutes between accident and the arrival of first responders, I made phone calls, I prayed, and I did what I could. And then, for the next couple of hours, I was silent. I didn’t know what to do or say, so, I did the next best thing I could: I was silent and I was there for my friend. I listed to her tears, and the tears of her husband when he arrived. I listened to cries of anguish, anger, despair. I had my shoulder cried upon, and I did my fair share of crying as well.
The thing that I learned that day is that sometimes, in pastoral ministry, the best thing a person can do is just be quiet and be there. Be that silent help. There are times when speaking can do nothing, even when given with the best intentions. Even if those words being spoken are the very Words of God with the power to save, all too often they will fall upon deaf ears in the midst of such a crisis. There will be time to grieve, there will be time to comfort, there will be time to encourage with God’s Word. However, when I was there, in that time immediately following that terrible accident, silence was the best thing that I gave. It was the only thing that I could give.
All too often, people just want to be like a self-help guru, giving advice and words of wisdom to help someone through a situation. Sometimes, those people can be of help, however, sometimes, they can be just plain annoying, if not insulting and infuriating. There have been many times when I have had a rough day and the last thing I want to hear is someone trying to cheer me up. Honestly, my kids are about the only ones who can get away with it, and even then, not all the time. Sometimes, just knowing that my wife is there with a simple hug or nudge or look is what I need. Her presence. The feeling is the same feeling when I read Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The author of Ecclesiastes writes that there is, “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b, ESV). We, as Christians, must remember that not all the answers can be spoken, and just because we can speak does not mean we should. The Spiritual Discipline of silence is something that has been long neglected in such a time as this, living in an age of instant information and gratification. Silence, being still and not just listening, but taking everything in around you, is something that even to this day, over two years later, is something that I am diligently working on. The discipline of silence is something that I think needs to be worked on by almost all Christians, all to the glory of God.