In a world with so much noise and distractions, we often fail to appreciate the power of silence. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, silence is the “absence of sound or noise.” While it is imperative that we individually and collectively speak out against evil and injustice, it is just as important that we know when and how to use silence. For some, especially those who consider themselves extroverts and others who love to talk, this discipline must be cultivated as these times are often few and far between. Learning to be comfortable with silence and not to feel compelled to fill every quiet moment with words or actions requires intentional effort. After all, it is often in silence that meaningful and sometimes deep contemplation and reflection take place.
These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on the words of Solomon found in Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak” (vv. 1, 7b, NIV). From a theological perspective, Bible scholar Matthew Henry opines that there is a time when it “is our wisdom and duty, to keep silence, when it is an evil time (Amos 5:13), when our speaking would be the casting of pearl before swine, or when we are in danger of speaking amiss (Psalm 39:2); but there is also a time to speak for the glory of God and the edification of others, when silence would be the betraying of a righteous cause, and when with the mouth confession is to be made to salvation; and it is a great part of Christian prudence to know when to speak and when to hold our peace.” However, when we understand the power of silence, it becomes evident that the application of Solomon’s words is also applicable on a more granular level.
To better investigate our inner world and be with ourselves, to take a thorough look at our thoughts and attitudes, we might use moments of silence to our advantage. Silence enables us to focus our energies and provides us with the clarity we require to handle difficulties and uncertainties calmly. Instead of emotionally reacting to situations, we learn how to respond logically to them because growth, change, and transformation are all possibilities when there is awareness. We can build this awareness through contemplation and reflection. In our relationship with God, we cannot do all the talking. To live God-centered lives, the power of silence provides us opportunities to listen to God. Roman Catholic apologist Robert Benson was right when he said, “It is in silence that God is known.” Mother Teresa put it this way, “God is a friend of silence.”
Quite some time ago, I heard someone say words to the effect, “If the devil cannot stop you, he will push you.” Push us into being busy all the time, being so preoccupied with the routine things of life, our business, and that of others, that we do not have quiet moments to spend with God. When we get busy, our time with God often becomes a casualty. Yet these are times we cannot afford to do without. Centuries before Benson, the psalmist wrote, “Be silent in the LORD’s presence and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7, ISV). Being silent while we wait requires moments of inner and outer silence. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was on to something when he said, “We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God.” If you’re already there, keep going! If not, let’s start!