Sitting in the Silence
As the clippers zipped across the salt ‘n cumin-colored hair that covers my head, she said, “they are well-meaning. They do not know what to say. They think they are being helpful, but it is not what I need.”
The “they” she was referring to were church people. The occasion was grief.
My grieving barber was saying that she wanted someone to sit in silence with her. Sit in the quiet. Sit ready to listen when she is ready to talk. Sit with the laughter, anger, and simultaneous tears of sadness and joy wrapped around a memory. What needs to be said is nothing.
Silence and Stillness
As people of faith, we want to say the perfect thing that will bring comfort and peace. So we carefully craft sentiments that belong on Hallmark cards and in the scripts of Hallmark movies. But, unfortunately, while well-meaning, these kind and trite sentiments tend to express the complete lack of understanding of the moment and what is needed most: silence and stillness.
Grief, while natural, is complex and complicated. It is an emotion most have little experience with until it is our turn to walk down the pathway of loss. Loss is hard. It can be complicated by very well-meaning people with a lack of understanding who say they understand. What is needed more than awkward conversation during the journey of grief is a simple posture of silence and presence. If you are like me, you dislike the silence.
So coupled with my fresh haircut are my AirPods putting music into my ears and brain to cover the click of the keyboard and quiet the noisy part of my brain to let the creative section craft words for your reading. For me and a lot like me, silence is more foe than friend. Silence is the enemy.
Peace in Silence
So how do we learn to make peace with the silence?
In the less than quiet reflection of this moment comes flooding the posture Jesus so often took. The divine human who walked this earth for 33 years would often slip away into the silence. The bible tells us Jesus would go to a “lonely place” to pray. Jesus, alone, in the quiet, by himself would pray, maybe shed tears of joy and grief, in the silence of the night.
Richard Foster, the famed writer on spiritual disciplines, writes this:
“Silence frees us from the need to control others. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless.”
We hate helplessness. Yet, sometimes the most significant help to those we are walking within this life and in our very own walk with Jesus is to be silent. Maybe the best thing is to quiet our words, quiet our minds, and quiet our lives. Maybe in the stillness of the silence, we begin to hear the other that we sit with. Maybe in the silence, we start to listen to the Spirit whispering wisdom that the noise of our lives has blocked out.
Please understand, silence is not a discipline I am good at or even practice regularly. I am most comfortable in the noise. Yet, over time of sitting with those grieving and learning to listen to the Spirit, silence is the most significant attribute I can bring to the conversation. Quite possibly, this is why the psalmist penned those famous words: “Be still and know that I am God.” Maybe the songwriter knew that we had to quit making all the noise for us to see and hear God.
Step into the discomfort and try to sit in the silence. Just see if in the quiet you see and hear things you’ve never heard before.
Jeff Pitts is a church planter in Cleveland, TN. He loves his family, coffee, and NEEDTOBREATHE.