The Sound of Silence

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; (Ecc. 3: 1, 7 ESV)

There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I, however, often mix the times up. From my youth, I have known of my tendency to speak before thinking. I memorized James 1:19 during my teenage years and quoted it often to myself.

James 1: 19 ESV … let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

By God’s grace, my speech has slowed down, and I listen better than I did as a youth. Yet, I’ve noticed that my tendency to choose silence at inappropriate times has increased of late. It took the wounding silence of a friend with me to awaken me to the inappropriate silence I had shown another.

A committed friend with whom I had shared many intimate conversations stopped replying to my emails, leaving me hanging as we were scheduling our next time together. Her silence was deeply wounding. But it opened my eyes to my inappropriate silence with my other friend who had called and left a voice mail for me months ago. I just left her hanging. I don’t know why I didn’t return the call. I just didn’t. I could analyze it here and give some reasons, but I won’t. Though I had reasons, they weren’t REASON ENOUGH. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I had chosen silence when I should have chosen speech. Oh, Lord, please open my eyes to know which is which!

Silence has often wounded me more deeply than any other sound. It’s the sound of someone’s heart who is just not interested enough in me to even make an attempt. Many of us choose silence because we don’t know what to say, but it gets translated instead as “I don’t care about you” whether you mean it that way or not.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember that sometimes the loudest message you can communicate is said through nothing at all. Silence can be deafening. If you’ve been silent with someone, even appropriately silent, remember that Ecclesiastes speaks of it as a time, a season, that eventually gets replaced by the time to speak. Don’t choose it forever, because whatever you likely mean by your season of silence, the one on the other end of it hears it as a very loud voice of rejection.

Eph. 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

**If you struggle with speaking to a person of high emotion that turns every conversation into a conflict, here’s an interesting secular resource. This link hasn’t been showing up for some, so I’m reformatting it.

14 Responses to The Sound of Silence

  1. strengthfortoday June 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    There are definitely good times to keep quiet…I think we struggle so much with those that we forget that just the opposite is true as well. This fits very well with the summer focus (at our house) of esteeming others better than ourselves. Thanks for addressing this.

  2. Hannah June 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Thank you for this post, and well, all of them. I discovered your blog not that long ago, when there was an article by you posted on the desiring God blog. Since then each and every post you write has been such a godsend to me at just the right moment. I forward them all to my husband telling him he has to read them. Today he asked me if you were my alter-ego! This post especially speaks to me today as I have been in a very similar situation with a friend. I have tried to repair and restore the relationship but I feel that there is just still so much emptiness to it. I tried to measure my words and response to her after a very big hurt, and to only say what should be said, even when everything inside of me wanted to vindicate myself. But maybe my measure of words, to her, is a form of silence and is only keeping things broken and not allowing for full restoration. Praying that God will lead each of us as we continue to cling to the gospel for healing and knowing when the moments are for silence and when the moments are for speaking.

  3. Wendy June 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    Hannah, I hope you see reconciliation in this relationship!

    Diane, as always, I appreciate your encouragement. 🙂

  4. Roberta June 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    A young gal I used to babysit is not a Christian and she knows that I am one. She sent me a blog of a journalist who makes fun of Christians. I wasn't going to reply but then I saw posted on another blog a rant by a non Christian defending Christianity. I sent it to her and haven't heard from her since. I pray that God will use this non Christian to bring this gal to Himself.

  5. Anonymous July 1, 2011 at 12:30 am #

    Thanks Wendy, this is God's Spirit speaking to me today

  6. Laura July 1, 2011 at 4:15 am #

    Wendy – I really appreciate your blog – I've been reading for a couple of months now and forwarding a few of them as well. Like you and another commenter, I am in a similar situation with a longtime close friend who has been giving me the silent treatment lately. I'm praying for God to restore our relationship, but I am also asking the Lord to show me when and how I've done the same thing. You mentioned a secular link at the end of this post for those who turn conversations into conflict, but I didn't see one. I'd like to take a look at it if you could get me the link. You're a gifted writer and I'm grateful for how God is using your talents and faith to keep us all grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  7. Wendy July 1, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    I think the link is fixed now. It's BIFF:Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns by Bill Eddy.

  8. Luma July 4, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I will admit that I am a person of high emotions that has prayed and “worked” for YEARS for quietness and gentleness of spirit. I have also had people tell me that it's hard to talk to me because of my high emotions. I am very grateful for this post and your last one. They are linked for me.

    Last year was a time of hardship, pain and conflict. God was doing a lot of shaking up in our lives. I was hurt and I hurt others, but when the Lord gripped my heart with the gospel, when He removed the scales to show me the depth of my sin and the beauty of His grace, that is when I was able to truly love people the way Christ loved them. He removed fear from my heart, the fear that used to drive so many of my relationships including my relationship with Him. The relationships are slowly healing. Without the love of Jesus I could never truly love another.

  9. Wendy July 4, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    That's beautiful, Luma. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Sarah July 5, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Silence has often wounded me more deeply than any other sound. It's the sound of someone's heart who is just not interested enough in me to even make an attempt. Many of us choose silence because we don't know what to say, but it gets translated instead as “I don't care about you” whether you mean it that way or not.

    I was so glad to read your post because I've been thinking through such things for the past year, but can never seem to put it into words in a way that others will understand. You have done it perfectly.

    Apathetic silence hurts more than open hostility. I have never felt more alone than when friends fail to respond to messages – not because they didn't receive them, but because they admitted they couldn't be bothered.

  11. Anonymous July 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    I'll have to ponder this. I'm not an emailer/ facebooker, and do not enjoy writing at all — it is a difficult chore for me. I receive so many emails and dread answering them. i have 8 or 10 on my 'to do' list right now. It has nothing to do with the other person — i don't answer my best friends either! The only ones I answer immediately are the ones who are reaching out to me in the midst of turmoil. In person works for me (or phone/skype), but writing is SO DIFFICULT. When friends complain of my 'no response', i explain that writing is a difficult chore and to please let me off the hook.

  12. Wendy July 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    That's a good point, Anonymous. It's good to let people know what avenues of communication are best for us. Facebook and email are easier for me than the phone. And texting is not my preference at all. I'm not one to write long responses by email either. My responses are most of the time much shorter than the emails I receive. I do try to write a response that indicates that I actually read their email and answered their questions and asked a question of my own of them. But that doesn't have to be overwhelmingly long.

  13. Sandra July 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    I am dealing with this right now Wendy. We just returned home from a trip to see my husband's family and they didn't ask a single question about our adoption process or how our autistic son is doing. Silence hurts so much. I know there have been times in my life I've said nothing to others for fear of saying the wrong thing. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  14. Wendy July 5, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    I'm sorry, Sandra. I know that hurts!