17 If the Lord hadn’t helped me,
I would live instantly in total silence.
18 Whenever I feel my foot slipping,
your faithful love steadies me, Lord.
19 When my anxieties multiply,
your comforting calms me down.
Silence is calming when the clamor of the world seems overwhelming, when the news is too much, when everyone seems to be losing their minds. It’s comforting when you are sad and a loved one gently takes your hand or pulls you in to give you a hug.
Silence is a great thing…until it’s not. Silence can be terrifying when you are waiting for a response to an important question, and it’s clear the speaker is working out just the right words to avoid hurting your feelings. Silence is intimidating when you know everyone at the table is angry and you can’t figure out how to break through the ice to put relationships back together again.
Sometimes in the silences of our lives, our anxieties multiply. Our brains fill in the gaps with images of the worst possible outcomes. In those moments, we need comfort. But what can we do, when the God we are calling on to comfort us also speaks in silences? How can we distinguish one type of silence from another? How do we know what God is trying to say through the silences of our lives?
I’m not sure that the answer is any different from us trying to distinguish one human silence from another. We just know. We intuitively understand and feel it. Every silence is full of emotion. Sometimes we just need to step back, take a breath, and feel our way through it.
This isn’t always comfortable. We want answers. We want certainty and proof. What God gives us instead are feelings and emotions: the sense that we are loved and cared for; the sense that God knows us and is watching out for us; the faith that everything we’re worried about is all going to turn out okay.
It turns out that a key component of prayer is learning to listen to the silences of God. We need to become comfortable and familiar with them until we can sit in God’s presence like two old friends who don’t need words to say what exists in the space between them. This is what it means to listen to the silence.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Today, take some time to sit quietly before God with no words, no prayer requests, no agenda. Set a timer for a minute, two minutes, five minutes – whatever you think you can manage. Then try to sit quietly and just interpret the silence. What are you feeling in the space between you and God? Is it peaceful? Turbulent? Distant? Warm? Maybe try this again over the next two days and determine whether some “quiet time” may benefit your prayer life. Listening to the silence takes time, but it’s worth it!