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.