This past weekend, as the residual chatter from the Supreme Court’s Friday decision to redefine marriage spun out of control, a friend on social media shared the following meme:
Normally, I could celebrate such a meme, but at that moment? I felt like I was back on the playground only to notice that a comrade with whom I’d been having a tiff was sticking out her tongue at me.
Yes, we can turn little in a hurry when spats arise, and it feels just as icky now as it did back then.
In many ways, this meme is filled with wisdom. But at the moment in time it flashed across my phone, it rubbed me the wrong way.
Again, I’m back in my childhood, being told to hush up, and it feels oppressive. The messages: “I am more powerful than you.” “You don’t have anything worthy to say.” “Your feelings don’t really count here.”
Sometimes, my youngest son’s face especially shows that same expression of having been squelched and I wince to recall what that felt like. Maybe it’s because I still sometimes do.
It is one thing when we discern on our own that it’s time to go quiet for a while. This can be a very good and healthy thing. Throughout the year, I go on social media fasts that are very good for my soul. We do need to discern when to speak up, and sometimes, pausing from the chatter is the best thing of all.
But to be told, “Be quiet and just be happy?” Ugh. So many old feelings rise up to the surface.
In the faith community, we often hear it put thus: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” And again I say, “Yes, there are times we necessarily should grow quiet. And there is power in that.” I’ve experienced that freedom in certain moments when I’ve felt called to grow quiet, and in those instances, I am left with a feeling of peace.
However, that’s not always the case, and we can’t always be silent. There are times when going silent can be harmful to others. Think of the person witnessing someone being bullied who doesn’t speak up against the wrongdoing, for instance. Can we, should we, go silent when we know someone is being hurt?
So when to speak up and when to go silent?
On Monday, while doing morning prayers, I came across the following, from Romans 10:14-15:
“How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news.'”
I emphasized the line that jumped out at me because I think it holds a key in my discernment of silence vs. chatter. Not everyone is sent, and even those who are sent in something might not be sent in all things, and perhaps they are sent for a certain time, but not all times.
Though I am no one special, I do feel that I am to be part of the dialogue taking place right now. There is much I don’t know, and some that I do. But what’s even more important than what I know is how I relay what I know. Do I try to relay it with prudence? Is my aim to attack, or do I sincerely just want to enlighten or offer another view?
From some of my friends who disagree with me lately, I have sensed them wanting me to be quiet. But an even more insistent voice is whispering something else in my ear. It is not time to go silent; not yet.
Perhaps at some point, I will fall silent. It’s quite logical; after all, we can’t all be talking at once. But I feel like I have been prepared for a time such as this, not to “just be quiet” but to pray, to discern and to speak up when I feel injustice. And until I am silenced by force — which could also happen at some point — I feel I must continue sharing my thoughts, choosing my words as wisely as possible, but with a hope that even a sliver of God’s truth might break forth from my lips and move someone’s heart in a way that would not have been possible had I just gone quiet.
I do not feel that I’m meant to be muffled. God has given me a heart that desires dialogue and communication. Not only is it a gift but it’s also how I learn, and hopefully, as I move forward with my thoughts and take in the thoughts of others, so long as they are respectful, something will be advanced somehow, with God’s help.
In Etty Hillesum’s diaries, there is a moment when — toward the end of her time at the work camp that will be her final home before she is taken to her death — she says that her tears are her prayers; that there are no words. As I read this entry, I could feel it. Even though I’ve never been in her exact position, thank God, there have been times when I have found there are no words, just hot tears, and that that must be enough, and it is adequate.
But that time is not now for me. Until I am silenced by force, or God makes it abundantly clear it’s time to grow quiet and fade away, I’m here, doing what I was made to do, and praying that more good will come of it than not.
Q4U: When have you found going silent a necessity? When have you felt called to speak up?