"I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." - Xenocrates (396-314 B.C.)
You learned later in life to utter that prayer for yourself and others, the one that pops up regularly in your mind: “Lord, give me the words - and the silences.” Where did that prayer come from? You know where it came from – all those misspoken words still regretted today. Too many times uttering the first thought to pop in your head despite not asking for God’s assistance. Too many times opening your mouth when you should’ve been listening, like the time she came to you to confide about serious marriage troubles but you turned the conversation back to yourself, your troubles. Too many times sharing your opinion, your recommendations, your suggestions, your criticisms, your ‘this is confidential’ statements, ‘this is just between us’ prefaces. Too many times uttering statements that sound to your own ears as tough love, good advice, wise counsel, needed direction when in actuality they will enter into someone else’s heart as wounds that pierce and wrap around psyches, contributing to self-doubt, returning as unwelcome accusers for days, months, or maybe even years, causing deflated sons to feel doubly bad about the poor grade, rocky relationship, inappropriate choice when they were just trying on adulthood. How about the letters written in haste that can never be retracted? Or emails? Now there’s an instant way to damage someone’s self-image – or a relationship - when silent prayer would’ve been best of all.
But in recent years, you’re learning to zip your lip. Like when someone falsely accused you, lied about you, offered betrayal in response to your friendship. You offered silence rather than defending yourself. And although you never saw healing results, you know God speaks into silence.
Other times you practiced silence and the payoff was way big. “Kenzie ran your van into a school bus” the neighbor said, coming to your house to carry you to the scene early on a September school morning. You arrived and walked past all the caring neighbors looped in a half circle around your sobbing son where they stood in silent respect. You passed the police officer writing a ticket, and the mangled bus where thankfully no one was hurt, and your totaled mini-van, the one you really, really liked. You looped your arm through your son’s arm just as the police officer came over to hand him the ticket. You said a couple of words: “It’ll be okay. No one was hurt. Nothing that can’t be fixed.” And then you joined the neighbors in respectful silence.
Or the fire? Seventeen acres they managed to burn thanks to their novice filmmaking attempts to include World War II special effects in their student film but forgetting to calculate the danger of fireworks in a drought. “We couldn’t believe how fast the trees went up in flames,” your son told you later when he still reeked of ash and smoke, after the policeman spoke gracious words to him in your driveway behind the replacement mini-van: “Don’t let this get in the way of your dreams.” After reassuring your sons they were loved and forgiven. After watching the news feeds of helicopters dumping water on the fire while residents in adjacent homes fled with pictures and important paperwork. After waking up early in the morning to a sudden downpour of rain and learning that all was still well with no loss of property, no loss of life, and smothered flames. You withheld words throughout it all. And without your assistance, God stepped in and spoke in the silence, teaching your sons a valuable lesson about grace and kindness in the face of mistakes.