When Silence is Lead

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”

(Psalm 32:3)

First things first: the immediate context of this verse concerns David’s acknowledgement that his attempts to hide personal sin from GOD backfired on him.  It caused him misery as the weight of his conscience plagued him to the point that it manifested physically.  I know from experience what David experienced.  The heart that belongs to GOD cannot ignore sin, and failure to confess it and repent from it can work its way outwardly from the soul to the physical body.  But immediate context also is paralleled by broad context, and I think there is a context here that goes beyond sin.

The exact origin of the phrase, “silence is golden” is not clear.  There’s some suggestion that its roots are found in ancient Egypt.  Similar statements are made in early German, Swiss and English literature.  Of course, biblical references speak about silence across a range: the need for silence, the importance of not being silent at times, and when silence is the response to being overwhelmed with uncertainty.  As always, context is essential, or to quote a friend’s take on the common statement, “Text without context is a pretext;” he prefers, “Text without context is a con.”

Personally, I like silence and solitude.  I’m wired that way. I gravitate toward spiritual influences who are contemplative; this way is intriguing to me.  Going on personal spiritual retreats where much time is devoted to listening for the voice of GOD works for me.  Reading the works and stories of holy men and women who organized their lives to experience periods of silence is appealing.  Silence can be golden.

Nevertheless, there are times when silence is not golden; it is more like a lead weight.  One reason is noted in the introduction to this post…sin.  Another is when emotional turmoil, often due to no fault of our own, is like a heavy weight on our neck and shoulders. We’ve all had those experiences: someone with whom you are in relationship says or does something that is deeply hurtful and we are wounded; hard issues from our past arise suddenly and unexpectedly; we feel taken advantage of and are uncertain what to do about it; someone has violated our trust and unexpressed anger is roiling in us (or is that just me?).  I hope you get the point.

Things like this can be like being in a pressure cooker, something my mother would often use for cooking.  A pressure cooker is a pot designed so the top is sealed airtight.  As heat produces unreleased steam pressure inside the pot, food is cooked more quickly than in a regular pot.  And unlike with microwaves, food retained its moisture and nutrients.  Because significant pressure builds as a result of the heat and steam, safe use of pressure cookers means the pot must have pressure controls and a release aperture so that the pressure does not build to a dangerous level.

Self-imposed silence can be the airtight lid on a pressure-filled pot.  It can build to the point where our bones groan, figuratively and near literally.  Inviting a trusted other to help us carry our burden is what allows the pressure to be released slowly and safely.  It may not solve the problem we’re facing; it may not make the hurt go away, but whatever we are facing becomes less daunting.

The plain truth is that we are not designed to be alone, and perhaps more than anything, it means being alone in the solitude of our emotional suffering.  Neglect of fellowship in community for the sake of keeping things silent is a recipe for making silence like lead.  It can give us the same feeling as the unconfessed sin we carry around: groaning bones.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)


© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content.



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