The Gift of Silence (8/30/2014)

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Somewhere in the first half of our marriage Nan and I took a vacation break and drove up the coast of California for a weekend getaway. You might call it a sanity break. Los Angeles is noisy and busy most of the time. It was on this road trip that I became aware of something for the first time. There was an undeniable intimacy between the two of us. How did I come to this conclusion? We had just spent 2 hours driving in the car without talking. And we weren’t mad at each other, just content with being together.

We did not need constant conversation to reassure ourselves that everything was OK. 

As I sit here by myself on another sanity break, I am up before anyone else, watching the sunrise. I am listening for God’s voice. I realize that the world is never silent. I can hear a cacophony of birds, the crash of waves, the rustling of trees. But this is as silent as the world gets without locking myself in a soundproof studio.

Why is silence a gift?

It’s a gift because it is so rare.  If you have kids you really know what I’m talking about. Kids are not silent except when they are sleeping (or maybe mad). My workplace is never silent and I’ll bet yours isn’t either. But in silence I can really tune in to my thought life, my inner conversation, in a way that I can’t when the world around me is too noisy. Only in silence can I really hear.

I want this for Nan, not just for me. I need her to hear from God, to sort out her thoughts in order to make good decisions for us. She can’t do that effectively in a constantly noisy environment. That is one of the reasons we gave up television a number of years back. It was hard for us to control its pull on us, so we got rid of it. (OK, we have Netflix)

Silence in counseling is powerful. I ask a question and wait – and wait – and wait some more. It feels awkward for the untrained, but for a seasoned counselor it is an important tool. It allows a client to search deeper and more comprehensively. I compare it to a search on my computer’s hard drive – sometimes it takes a while to come up with the information I am seeking.

Does your anxiety or insecurity keep you talking? Is this a habit that needs to be broken or are you already good at this? Being a good listener requires the ability to endure silence.

If this is a struggle for you, try this exercise with someone you care about. Agree to be together in silence for a period of time. You choose the amount of time – 10 minutes, a half hour, whatever. Be aware of how you are feeling, and then discuss it with the other person. Ask the person how it was for them.

Silence is powerful when it is not used to punish, or avoid or shut out another person, but rather to offer a precious gift.

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