Choosing Silence

Originally published Sunday, 06 October 2013.

I was mad. Fueled and ready to debate. All I needed was to get alone with my husband so that I could relay the way I saw it and why I needed him to compromise. But first, I had a lunch meeting to get through, which wasn't going to be easy given the riveting speech I was mentally preparing. As the lettuce wraps arrived at our table, I confided in my friend. I asked her to help me see it differently. Her advice was unexpected. "What if you didn't say anything?" "Hmmm." (direct quote of my response). "What if this time, you were just his cheerleader? And you decided to not say anything negative for a little while? Just see what happens." I called after the lunch and told him that I didn't want to argue. I told him that I loved him and trusted him.

In the weeks since that conversation, I've noticed an interesting change. In the beginning, I was frustrated. Wound up. Then I wasn't. And then I was peaceful. My feelings towards our disagreement have actually changed. I noted recently that I am genuinely on his side...and I don't think I would have come to that place if I hadn't taken the time to be silent.

I'm a talker. The people who know me well just laughed and said something along the lines of "you think?!" Not speaking, especially when I am emotional, is a big stretch beyond my natural inclinations. It is also an important discipline; and it is for the health of my relationships.

When I choose to not speak, I pick up a few things I had been missing...

I hear what I'm actually saying. Three years ago, my husband and I felt convicted about how often we were critical. We justified our little comments because they were "constructive" know, frequently discussing how something could have been more efficient, the reasons behind someone's behavior, etc. We weren't helping anyone. There are appropriate times for those observations, but we sensed that they were occurring too often. "Let's agree to not say anything critical for at least a month." This was especially difficult because we were in the middle of a season of American Idol - and we're musicians. We quickly became aware of how often we spoke this way; an unsettling realization that changed us. We'll slip back into old habits at times, but that period of silence made us listen to what we were actually saying so that we recognize it today.

I discover the beliefs behind the words. When I chose to reserve any negative comments related to the story I told you earlier, I was able to hear my thoughts play out...and they revealed the motives and beliefs behind my emotions. That understanding was truly constructive. We need to be people who speak up, share our feelings and are honest when we've been hurt or we disagree. I realize that for some people, those are difficult things to do. But some of us don't have a hard time with that. In fact, for people like me, we can easily share everything, all the time, without running it through a filter to determine if it is best to speak - or at least to speak in this moment. Waiting gives us time to listen closer...and to hear the words that aren't being said. The thoughts we didn't know we had.

I realize that I was wrong. Sometimes the wait clarifies our thoughts and enables us to better express our original feelings. At other times, the wait gives us the space and perspective to realize we need to change those original feelings. If you asked me today about the situation I mentioned above, I would tell you, with complete honesty, that I do not feel the way I did on that day. I see it differently now and I'm grateful for the words I didn't say...words I would not have been able to take back.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger... (James 1:19)

Words are big deal to me. They can communicate, inspire, hurt...and for me, they tend to come quickly. But that intentional moment of silence...reserving what could be said...readjusts my heart and eventually gives me the words I really mean. The words I'll be proud of later.

What about you? When have you found it better to pause rather than speak? How did that change you?