We arrived at our friends’ home, nestled in the majestic mountains of western China, completely unprepared. Grandmother opened the door for us, unable to hold back her tears. We followed her to the table where her daughter-in-law filled our tea cups and whispered their heartbreaking news, “Our son died three months ago.”
She then slipped out of the room to prepare food for us, while Grandmother returned to her bed at the end of the hall. We silently sipped our tea and let this news sink in; our hearts filled with grief.
One of the friends traveling with us encouraged me to comfort Grandmother whose muffled sobs echoed softly in the hallway. I reluctantly stood up, thinking, “I really don’t know what to say.” But as I slowly walked down the hall, I was reminded of Job’s friends who simply sat with him in his grief because “his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 2:13)
God, please help my presence be a comfort to her.
She graciously patted the spot beside her on the bed for me to sit down and I took her hands. We wept together as she unfolded the tragic story. Her 13 year old grandson had gone hiking one Saturday with friends on a nearby mountain. One friend suddenly lost his footing and began to fall down a ravine. The grandson grabbed his hand to try to pull him back up. But both boys fell to their deaths.
As Grandmother and I sat in silence, I looked at our intertwined hands and asked God to help me enter into the grief of the Chinese Muslim culture that we were just beginning to learn about.
Henri Nouwen’s writings have helped me to better understand the gift of divine silence:
One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow. For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.
. . . Silence is above all a quality of the heart that can stay with us even in our conversation with others. It is a portable cell that we carry with us wherever we go. From it we speak to those in need and to it we return after our words have borne fruit.” (The Way of the Heart)
Several years later, God taught me more about the need to quiet my heart before ministering to others, when dear friends came to our apartment to talk with us about the husband’s struggle with pornography. We knew it would be difficult, and we hoped to offer them a safe place. We wanted to extend comfort, to affirm the positive steps taken, to ask hard questions, and to love them through the messy.
As I straightened up our home before they arrived, I knew that we also needed to clean up the cluttered places in our hearts, in order to make space for their pain.
I asked God to give us discernment so we could speak His words of Truth with gentleness and love. That we could direct the conversation in such a way that it wouldn’t feel like we were trying to “fix them” or seem as if we had it all together. Because we so don’t.
Our desire is to come alongside, as fellow travelers in this journey of life. As safe friends of like heart who hope to offer true support and encouragement so that they won’t feel alone in the darkness.
My natural tendency is to fill up awkward times of quietness with words, instead of embracing the fullness and richness of silence. In order to make space in my heart for others, I desire to first seek divine silence so I can de-clutter my heart, and then invite them to encounter God’s rest with me.
Is that your desire too?
God, please help us to find rest in the silence of Your divine presence and to create space in our hearts for others to be able to find Your rest and healing there.