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.Leave a Comment
Yes. So good and such a valid thing, this silence. Help me to seek divine silence in the hurry of each day. To embrace it. To see an opportunity for silence, and live not only in the quiet of it but to bloom in it. To give a gift of permission to be silent to others, not to solve our problems but invite the Holy Spirit to speak into it and give us groanings too deep for words. To delight in those moments.
I used to take a “silent retreat” every now and again, just to be with God. To listen. Those designated days have integrated into moments of exhale. Living between sighs of hurry and frustration and occasional worry. I think this is a good prompt to seek silence for me. Thanks for sharing, and inspiring.
Marina, I love the way you’ve described silence. And a silent retreat sounds really intriguing to me. I’ve never done one, but feel the need to be more intentional about carving out time for quiet in this noisy world we live in.
I always bring a friend or two, all of us with the intention of drawing near in silence. Places are quieter during the week… a coastal place, a campground, a scenic lake, a monastery! Bring along your water, bible (paper, not electronic), journal and pen, art supplies if desired, and break out on your own, but stay within visual contact if each other… you want to be safe in these weird days. Designate the amount of time you have, or end at dusk, etc and come back together. If you want more community, discuss the purpose of going on the way there, and what God is showing you, on the way home. Or keep it silent the entire time!! Talk about it another day!
I met with a friend for 2 years on Monday evenings at the baptismal in our church (it was a perpetual pool…overflowing water) to pray for the nations (and our missionaries). Often I would go early to just “be” with God. The flowing water created a backdrop so peaceful, I could fall asleep!
I pray that you find the right niche for your intentional quiet. I know He will be honored with your time, and you will be blessed!
Thanks for sharing your ideas Marina. I’m especially touched by your commitment to pray for the nations.
Well… Missionary Care is my ministry, so missions is sort of my passion… it’s kind of necessary
Just the word “silence” gives me such a peaceful feeling. To be able to declutter our thought processes in the presence of silence is a gift from God. Thank you for your encouragement.
Thanks for your comment Brenda. As I was cleaning out the freezer last week and throwing out food that was long expired I thought about how my mind needs to be decluttered like that. I want God to help me focus on what is most important to Him and get rid of all that doesn’t need to be cluttering up my thoughts.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Oh how eager we are to fill the silence with noise or chatter. As I’ve gotten older, silence has really become my friend. I work from home and can honestly say I never have the t.v. on. I may listen to praise music but only for a certain period of time. When I’m in my car, I find I like silence. When I go for walks I never take my phone so I can listen to God’s creation call to me. There are whispers in the silence. God never yells over the noise, so I find that the more I am silent, the more I am able to usher in His presence and what He might have to say to me. The same with offering others the gift of our silence. It invites the conversation to be about them….it gives them the courtesy of stepping through the door of sharing first. When my children were teenagers, I found that the more I was around them and kept silent, the more they opened up an talked. Silence says, “I’m here to listen.” I loved your quotes that help us take a different approach to silence and not to see it as an awkward void that we need to always fill up. Beautiful!
“Silence says ‘I’m here to listen.'” I love that Bev. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Rev. Tracy A. Duncan says
This is the second time within a month that I’ve had to prepare a funeral for a family in the church where I serve. I couldn’t settle down and hear what I needed to from the Lord. The noise in my home and the noise in my own life and heart we’re making it difficult to hear. I was desperately waiting on God for the words which would calm my anxioud heart and prayerfully be a source of comfort for this twice bereaved family. Thank you for sharing this article on the silence. It was in the morning when I woke, that the Holy Spirit spoke through the silence and gave me the sermon title and the scripture for this funeral. Thank you for the words of affirmation about the need for silence in our lives.
God bless you in your challenging ministry Tracy and may He use both your presence and the words He gives you to bring healing and comfort to those experiencing such great loss.
Rev. Tracy Duncan says
Thank you. I appreciate what you have shared.
I appreciate your words of wisdom. Most times, when I find myself in an awkward situation, I try to think of ‘words’ to say, but after reading this, I now realize that I don’t have to ‘fill the void’, but rather I can just be still and silent, allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work. This is actually liberating to know we don’t always have to be saying something!
So glad to know that this post resonated with you Charlene. Blessings as you seek and serve with the silence and power of the Holy Spirit.
This was so beautifully put. Silence is okay! Having someone just there to grief is okay, too. I lost my husband of a fatal heart attack six years ago. For several weeks family and friends dropped with food and comfort. I have a few friends who would walk beside me sometimes talking, sometimes not. While I had some family members who just wouldn’t stop talking. One night, I finally had enough of the chattiness of one family member and had to ask her to leave. I just couldn’t take the constant talk after working all day, at a new job, then, deal with the everything, I needed to do for my family. Later, that evening a friend came by we took a walk, not much was said but tears flowed. It felt, so comforting! I felt so greatful to God and my friend that night!
Tricia, I feel your pain and the desire to have others enter into your grief without words. Thank you for sharing as one who has desired to get away from the noise and chatter of others. It really can feel like an added burden to bear!
Lora Leftwich says
Thank you for your post on silence. I find myself craving it lately. It’s not because my world is unusually noisy but being silent does help me to breathe better and focus more intently. Strangely enough the more silent I become the better I can hear.
I can hear the words spoken and unspoken by others who have something they need to share, I can hear the Spirit’s urging, and I can literally hear myself think and process through life.
Lora, being able to hear another’s spoken and unspoken words is such a gift. Thanks for sharing.
well said, Jodie. What you offered was a beautiful picture of companionship and compassion – coming alongside another rather than having the verse or the solution for them. We are best helped and grow not when someone says the “magic” prayer or verse but when we discover the answers within ourselves and the Spirit within us. Thank you for writing these words to share.
Melody, Yes. Companionship and compassion. What we most long for in others and the best gifts we can give away.
Debbie Simler-Goff says
This really resonates with me. As a hospice bereavement coordinator I have learned the value of silence. Of just praying silently, and allowing the Holy Spirit to fill the room with His peace as the grief stricken slowly unfold their heart’s pain. I particularly liked your words: “I knew that we also needed to clean up the cluttered places in our hearts, in order to make space for their pain.” This is so very true! I am looking forward to reading more about your experiences in China!! Fascinating.
God bless you in your job Debbie. It sounds like He is really using you to minister to grieving families.
Debbie Simler-Goff says
Thanks Jodie, I do try to let Him use me to be His hands and feet…
Debbie Simler-Goff says
Jodie, how can I email you? I can’t seem to find a way to contact you privately. I wanted to see if I could use this post on my blog because I write about grief and loss issues.
Jerilynn Bayi says
Thanks for sharing Jodie. Silence is so necessary. We all need to go to our quiet places and enjoy the stillness of His presence – “Be still & know that I am God”
Thank you Jerilynn. That’s a great verse to remember!
Sue Donaldson says
As my brother wrote me once while I was grieving: Jobs friend were better before they opened their mouths.
You’ve related a beautiful reminder of our role for others as well as how God wants us to shut up and listen, only He’s nicer about it…
Sue, that is so true. What a comfort they must have been when they just sat with Job in silence. And if you’ve been in a place of grief I’m sure you’ve experienced both sides of how friends can try to be helpful. Entering into another’s pain without trying to remove it or fix it or rationalize it is a real blessing.
Rebecca L Jones says
There is so much power in just being still and knowing He is God. Psalm 46:10
Rebecca, Amen. When we rush ahead to try to minister in our own strength/wisdom it becomes about us and not about Him.
Beth Price-Almeida says
I’m one of those people who finds solace in silence. Recently we had to move in with my parents because we needed to treat our house for mold.
There is NO peace here. My mother is one of those people who HAS to fill up any silence with noise…Very loud noise.
I have been in, what seems to me, to be a perpetually bad mood. I’m trying so hard to find my inner peace, praying and reading the Bible, but it just doesn’t seem to be sinking in!
Beth, praying that you can find creative ways to get the quiet you need while you’re at your parents’. I would feel the same way as you. Constant noise really drains me and silence restores my soul. May God’s still presence and peace be with you even while you’re in a noisy environment.
Michele Morin says
Jodie, thank you for this — I’m so quick to rush in with words, as if they could solve the problem or heal the hurt. As you said, I’m filling space that could be left free for the Divine Silence and the comfort that comes from peace which passes understanding.
Michele, God bless you in your desire to wait on Him in your conversations with those who are hurting. May He use you as a holy instrument to truly extend His presence and peace.
Dr. Phil Keezer says
Thank you for using words to remind me that we often need no words. Bill Bright wrote of such a concept as “Spiritual Breathing.” It is a thought and prayer process of letting the breath of the Holy Spirit flow into us and cleanse us from sin on a regular basis. To me this relates to a worship process I am growing into. I listen to a spiritual song. As I do so, thelyrics lead me to move or dance to the Lord. I love dance, music and the Lord. This unites these loves in my worship dance to Him without words from me.
Phil, that’s a great picture of connecting with God without words. Thanks for sharing.
Naomi Fata says
I love silence win the Lord and find that I do not cultivate it as much as I would like. It is one of those spiritual disciplines that perhaps we are not taught about that much. Even as a writer myself I find that I can get caught up in the business of social media and constantly making ‘noise’ in the online world and yet truly what is most important can often be found in the silent moments with the Lord as He grows our souls to know Him.
Naomi, I agree with you 100%. May we find more silent moments with the Lord.
Jodie, this is a beautiful truth. Decluttering our own hearts to make room for the listening to someone else’s pain. Thank you for this thoughtful well written piece.
Thanks for your encouragement Joy. May God help us keep growing in our decluttering and creating space for others.
Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu, What you shared is really true. So many expressions of love have no words.
Penny Baldwin says
This is an excellent reminder for me. As a mom and a nurse, my first instinct is to fix things. Sometimes silence is all we need.
Penny, it takes the pressure off of us, doesn’t it? Inviting silence into our lives can be like taking a deep breath in our souls and experiencing the rest that God gives us there. Trusting Him to show us what to do or say next.
Beth Williams says
As I get older and go through tough times I find I love silence. It helps me to think, clear out my mind and heart of any junk. I will admit I enjoy some good Christian music or preaching. It seems lately that I crave silence to quiet myself to think and hear God. Our world is so noisy and everyone is clamoring for a voice. All I want and need now is Jesus and a bit of quiet meditation.
Beth, I hear you. It seems there will always be noise in some form. In China, we had constant noise from the busy street outside our apartment building, and I tried to find ways to get away from it. In Colorado, the environment is much more quiet and peaceful but there’s the noise of social media on my iPhone that I need to make a choice to turn away from. I find myself craving silence and solitude too.
Thank you Jodi. This is so essential yet I often tend to want to fill spaces with talk. Thank you for the call to look to do more by simply allowing space for silence.
Spring, Thanks for sharing. It is simple, but also challenging, to allow space for silence. Blessings to you in your journey.
Barbara Moore says
Oh Jodie – thank you for penning such a beautiful and wise reminder….GOD has been teaching me to wait on Him. Learning to listen in those places of silence and solitude invites GOD to speak to my heart. When I draw near to Him – it is a healing balm. Sometimes He is silent. Sometimes He creates images in my mind, and other times He dispenses wisdom with words. This divine touch of our Jehovah Raphe refreshes and recreates so that we can share the comfort we have been given.
Barbara, thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experiences with silence and healing and wisdom and refreshment and comfort. So blessed by your words and by your life!