When Saying Nothing Says a Lot
August 16 2010 by D.E. Parkerson

One of my seminary professors many years ago said, “As you minister to those who are suffering or have experienced a great loss, remember this: There will be times when you do not know what to say. Don’t say anything! Your presence, your concern, and the One you represent will say more than any words you could express.”

He was saying that there are times when words are both inadequate and inappropriate, when they become an intrusion on the deepest and most sacred experiences of life. At such moments “silence is golden.”

In the Old Testament book that bears his name we are told that Job’s three so-called friends saw his horrible plight, his calamitous losses, his disfigurement and isolation, and did what many people would never do: “They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13).

Seven days was the customary mourning period for the dead. Job’s three friends grieved for him as though he were dead. Their seven-day silence was far more eloquent than any words they could have spoken. How different it was from the endless advice and pious platitudes that are often encountered by persons in difficult times.

Jean Fleming, in her book, Between Walden and the Whirlwind, reminds us: “We live in a noisy, busy world. Silence and solitude are not 20th-century words. They fit the era of Victorian lace, high-button shoes and kerosene lamps better than our age of television, video arcades, and joggers wired with earphones. We have become a people with an aversion to quiet and an uneasiness with being alone.”

We are needlessly afraid of silence. We have to fill it with words, whether we have anything to say or not. The quiet forces in our world are the ones that most powerfully affect our lives. For example:
  • Sunbeams fall every day on the earth, silently, unheard by human ear. Yet they bring a marvelous energy and blessing to the earth.
  • Gravity is a silent force, yet it holds the stars and worlds in their orbits and keeps them on their courses with unvarying precision.
  • The dew comes silently in the night and bestows life and beauty on each plant and flower. God’s mightiest miracles are wrought in silence.
Noise and confusion come from human beings. However, God calls us to times of meaningful silence: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

The seven-day silence of Job’s friends teaches us a valuable lesson. It reminds us that there are times when silence is the only appropriate response, that there is a sacrament of silence that should be observed in life’s most sacred moments.

As the professor said, “There will be times when someone you know is facing tremendous difficulty. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything!” Your presence and your concern will say more than any amount of words you might speak.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Parkerson is a native of Georgia, a graduate of Mercer University [B.A.], Southeastern Seminary [M. Div. and Th.M.], and Campbell University [D.D.]. He has served as pastor of one church in Georgia and five churches in North Carolina. Following retirement as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sanford on Sept. 30, 1996, he has served nine North Carolina churches as interim pastor. His column, The Paper Pulpit, has appeared weekly in a few newspapers and other publications since 1958. He and his wife, Jessie, live in Wilmington near their daughter and family.)

8/16/2010 6:09:00 AM by D.E. Parkerson | with 0 comments

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