Deadly Silence

Th_snowbywater
Silence can be deadly
.

 

Have you ever had any of these experiences?

 

  • You pour out your heart to your friend and your friend doesn’t respond.  In fact, she changes the subject.  No positive response.  No negative response.  Nothing.
  • You write a letter of serious concerns to your minister or other church leaders.  You never hear a reply.
  • You express some deep personal concerns to your Dad or Mom in an e-mail.  These were difficult for you to write.  You never hear back from your parents. 
  • You share a struggle with a small group of friends.  Silence.  Everyone sits there and looks at you. No response.
  • You express an opinion in a class.  The teacher doesn’t even acknowledge what you said.  He is silent for a few seconds and then moves on with his material.  For a moment you feel quite silly.
  • You volunteer to help and no one says anything in response.  Nothing.

I recall a time when I was experiencing a particularly difficult time on a number of fronts.  On one occasion, I shared some of that with a few people.  In those days, it was particularly difficult for me to voice some of these frustrations (better said, "hurts").  Finally, I blurted some of this out.  I can’t remember much about this moment, except feeling very exposed for a moment as no one said a word.  Silence.  I remember feeling almost embarrassed at what I had just said.  Most of all, I remember wanting to somehow take back every word.

 

In most churches, people are not mean and do not intend to hurt.  (No, I am not naive.  Yes, I do know there are some very mean and cantankerous people who spend time in church buildings.  All I am saying is that in my experience most Christians are not like that.)  Many more people have hurt others through passivity and silence.  The issue, however, is much larger than what might happen in church.

 

  • How do you respond at work when someone tells you that the weekend was difficult?
  • What do you say when a friend tells you at the coffee break that she has been very depressed lately?
  • What do you say to a high school student who says that high school is horrible?
  • How do you respond when a friend at the university tells you that he feels totally stressed out about what is going on back home?

 

You might think, "But I don’t know what to say."  That’s OK.  So often I don’t really know what to say either.  What you can do is listen.  You can show interest.  You can ask questions.  You can show concern.  Anything but complete silence.

 

Such a silence communicates volumes if you are on the other end.  The silence communicates that you are not valuable.  Now some of us might argue with that.  We might be disturbed if others construed that.  "No, I don’t mean to communicate that you are not valuable."  Yet, (and this is the point) this deadening silence communicates just that and it leaves a person feeling that her words or actions mean little or nothing.

 

Again, the pressure is not on you to say just the right thing to a person who opens his or her heart to you.  Just be interested.  Show genuine concern.  Listen.  That might mean more than you realize.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Deadly Silence

  1. Jim,
    Such a good post. Thank you for calling us to be more sensitive and loving toward others. Your post reminds me of Nouwen’s “ministry of presence” and Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. I appreciate your ministry through this blog-keep writing!

    p.s. I noticed that you are currently reading Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. There is a good series on Christianity and postmodernity on my friend Bret Wells’s blog: http://www.bretwells.blogspot.com

  2. Jim,
    Such a good post. Thank you for calling us to be more sensitive and loving toward others. Your post reminds me of Nouwen’s “ministry of presence” and Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. I appreciate your ministry through this blog-keep writing!

    p.s. I noticed that you are currently reading Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. There is a good series on Christianity and postmodernity on my friend Bret Wells’s blog: http://www.bretwells.blogspot.com

  3. Reminds me of the old song, “The Sound of Silence”

    “Silence like a cancer grows.”

    When I don’t know what to say I often just try to hug. When I don’t know the person well enough to hug then I just try to touch them in an effort to let them know I care.

  4. hi jim

    on a more trivial note, i also hate it that so many of my friends never contact me to arrange a meet… of course, it could just be because they don’t want to see me, but all the evidence points to the fact that they are busy and disorganised… they simply don’t get around to doing stuff

    i reached a point a few years ago where i decided not to get fed up about it, and if i want to make a point, or talk something through, i arrange a date to meet people face-to-face… i know this isn’t always possible, however, just because people don’t respond doesn’t always mean they don’t care…

  5. You’ve touched the very heart of ministry.

    I’m reminded of Elijah in his cave, hiding from the world, in fear for his life, yet wanting to die. Not in the fire, not in the whirlwind, but in the “thin silence” God spoke.

    I fully agree with what you say, Jim. I simply want to posit hope for those without human helpers, however badly we need them. I have come to believe, with Luther, that God is revealed in suffering. And that our suffering is often the result of both his hiddenness and his revelation. Not because God is cruel but because he is so “other” than us.

    While such thoughts are part of “incarnational ministry”, that God took flesh to bridge that gap and reveal his love, the incarnation is incomplete without stripping away his flesh that in his humiliation and suffering we would see the deepest aspect of God’s character: self-sacrificing love. We are presented a paradox that unfolds to the eye of faith.

    Jesus himself, in Gethsemene, needed his friends to “watch” with him, but when they failed, being “weak” in the flesh, Christ pressed himself to the earth and waited and prayed and suffered. He drank the cup.

    This has been a life saving theology for my own life. Christ came to me in my prodigal stagnation when no one else could bear the stench.

    Thank you for such a positive, real ministry.