Silence. It can mean many things to many people. Pleasant to a mother of toddlers, relaxing to someone who has just worked a twelve hour shift. But to some of us (I think to more than who are willing to admit), silence scares us shitless. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about either. It’s okay though, you can silently admit it to yourself in the small compartment in your brain where you keep everything you’re afraid to share.
A parenthetical here.
Some of the thoughts I’m about to drop onto this piece will go against some of the Western culture’s “faith laws” as I like to call them. You know, the things our Western churches tell us we ought not to do. Because the truth is, breaking these “faith laws” will object us to the fact that our relationship with God is not perfect and we will in turn be forced to dig down to the cores of ourselves. We will be forced to look inward at our issues. Hence, why so many people are afraid of silence.
I’m not just speaking of silence by the Webster definition meaning forbearance or absence of sound or noise (Meriam-Webster Dictionary). Obviously that is exactly what silence is for those of you dense-minded individuals. But the silence I am speaking about goes much deeper than that. I’m talking about the silence we all run and avoid as much as possible. Don’t deny it. Right now you’re on your phone reading this (I’m grateful that you’re reading this by the way) because you happened across it while doing your endless rounds on your phone. Check Facebook. Scroll through Twitter. Like some pics on Instagram. Back to Facebook again. Send some Snapchats. Answer a few texts. Back to Instagram. It’s endless isn’t it?
We are constantly moving, always busy, always keeping our minds running and running. When will we ever be still? We won’t, because we know what happens if we do. We will then be forced to look at ourselves from a realistic perspective. We can no longer hide behind our Social Media persona that we create that says “nothing to see here, move along please”. We hide behind the comfort of likes, comments and retweets but in reality, we feel alone. Social Media is supposed to connect us, but in reality some of us feel more and more alone the more that we scroll.
In-turn, we will also be forced to come nose-to-nose with God and our relationship with Him. Preston Yancey, in his book “Tables in the Wilderness” perfectly describes how we try to compensate for this lack of genuineness with God. He says that we do a lot of talking about God and not actually to Him. I mean think about it, when was the last time you actually spoke to God? No, I’m not taking about the prayer you say at night. Whether it be to ask for protection, health, or my personal favorite; just reciting the Lord’s Prayer. That is not talking to God.
When was the last time you were angry with God? You can’t remember can you? Because the “faith laws” forbade us from being angry with God. They forbade us from asking him “Why?” They instead cover these things up with clever phrases like “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason”.
We need to break away from these sayings and from covering up the truth of pain like the scene in “Bid Daddy” where Adam Sandler throws newspaper on the piss-covered mattress. You know what I’m talking about. Something bad happens to you, whether it’s small or tragic. And you hear it said to you about a thousand times; “God has a plan”, or “it wasn’t meant to be” or my personal favorite, “God never gives you more than you can handle”. Now I’m all about honesty hour, so let’s get honest. When something bad has happened and someone gave you one of those cliché’s, did it actually help you? Like at all? Or could you really have gone your whole life without hearing that.
Now, you’re probably reading this thinking that these are all undoubtedly true, and that people say those things to “help”. But I will say it again, lets get honest with each other here. I know more than anyone that sometimes God places trials in our lives to bring us closer to him. But when someone has something terrible and tragic happen in their life, and you search through your rolodex of cliché phrases, have you every stopped to think that what you’re saying to them is not helpful at all? When my brother was killed, and for the years after, I heard enough of these phrases that if I received $1 for each time I heard one I would be rich. I was already so angry and so hurt by God for taking my brother, that each time I heard “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, or “time heals all things” I felt more isolated from God and he seemed farther away. And hearing those things gave me no motivation to try and inch closer to him.
Sometimes when someone experiences trouble or goes through heartbreak, they don’t need you to try and “help” them with your clever phrases that you probably also pin on your Pinterest board. Sometimes they want you to just be there. To listen. To grieve with them and walk with them.
So if you’re sick of hearing that “God has a plan” then guess what, God is too. Thank you for being captain obvious with your one-liner, but just know that when you say that, you may also be robbing someone of the motivation to come back to their relationship with God.
Now back to the point. We talk about being told that we ought not be angry at or question the big man upstairs. But there’s also one other big problem that we are taught here. We are told that God is omnipresent and that he never leaves us and that he’s always speaking to us, but he just whispers sometimes. But am I the only one who truly believes that sometimes God is just silent? This is something I struggled with for a long time. I can’t remember much about my childhood when it comes to God. But in my teenage years, after my brother was killed, God didn’t speak to me. On and off this cycle goes. But I have never truly heard Gods voice. No doubt He has saved my skin many times; but very few times do I feel like I’ve heard God speak to me. Eventually I will hear him, like the time the lady in front of me at the store wanted to buy my items for me. She didn’t know that it was the 5th anniversary of my brothers death and that I had just worked a very long and hard shift.
These are the times of silence that I fear. Many times in these long moments of silence I would compensate and overcompensate. I would try to pray to God. I would sing songs of Him. I would post a picture I took off of Pinterest. And still He would remain silent. I couldn’t feel his presence. One day, I chose to be still. This forced me to ask myself…and then ask God some very painful questions. Why wouldn’t He speak to me? Does He love me? Do I even know what His presence feels like? Or is everything I’ve ever been taught a lie? (This was, of course, before I decided to start boycotting religion and focus less on the man-made version of what our relationship with God is ‘supposed’ to be like). The few times I did attend a service at my parent’s church (Southern Baptist), I dreaded the end of the service. When the pastor would tell us to bow our heads while the piano played softly in the back. And he would pray to God that “anyone here who does not know you, who has not called you into their hearts, let them come forward. Let them know you.” No matter how many times I cried out to God at night and asked Him to save me, no matter how hard I tried, I felt like this prayer that the pastor said was like a cannon aimed at my chest and it would hit me at point-bank range. Do I really even know God? Does He want to come into my heart? Am I worth saving at this point?
And then, I felt alone. And I got angry. And I decided to tell God that I was angry. I lamented. Something else we “ought not to do”. There was a period of time where I stopped praying all together. This still happens and it fluctuates. There was even a point where I ceased to lament and I just sat there…hopeless. I let the darkness creep in. And the thought of death pleased me. And then I got scared. And I begged God for help. And somehow, some way, I was given the strength to keep going. And I met people along the way who needed my help as much as I needed theirs. This is when my fitness kicked into high gear and I found another calling both within and outside of the military. And so…I kept going. With every fluctuation of silence, anger, loneliness, and grief…I kept going.
I guess the point I am trying to make through this, is that sometimes we must give into the silence. Sometimes we have to put the phone down, turn off the tv and turn towards our inner selves. We have to come nose-to-nose with God and dig into the core. Let Him know what we are feeling, ask Him why. And just. Be. Still. He won’t always answer us right away, or in the way we think he will. But eventually, he will answer.
Don’t worry, even I must tell myself this when I feel lonely and discouraged and so far away from the Lord. Talk to God, not about God. Sometimes privacy is the best, God doesn’t want fame…He wants intimacy.
“He says ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the Earth’”
~ Psalm 46:10
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline