February 13, 2007
Nothing to Say
Last week, just one month in to this blogging venture, I started to panic that I wouldn't be able to keep it up. I was overwhelmed by commitments outside of work and stressed out by projects at work and short on sleep. But mostly (yes, after just a month): I didn't have anything to say.
Now, I'm all for being quiet. I really do think silence is golden, and not just at the movie theater. But "silence" (read: nothing to say) doesn't work so well for a blog, for obvious reasons. I was feeling the pressure and starting to sweat.
My mild panic reminded me of an experience I had a few weeks ago during a daylong personal retreat at my church. Most of the day was spent in individual time with the Lord. Very rarely do I set apart that much time to spend with God, completely away from the normal routines and activities of my days. I didn't go into the retreat with specific expectations or individual questions I wanted God to answer. However, as a college mentor honestly expressed once after a day of personal retreat, when you intentionally set aside that much time to be with God, you want to have something to show for it: some epiphany, some word God spoke, some insight and direction. In addition, I was also feeling pressure to use the time wisely, to make the most of the time I was setting aside, so that God and I could get the fullest possible benefit out of the day. (I clearly have completely escaped the influence of a consumerist, production-driven culture!)
The reality is, epiphany or not, setting aside time to be with God is invaluable; I'm reminded of it every time I do it. And, among other invaluable moments during the retreat for me, one that stands out most was a point in the morning when I sat before the Lord in silence and felt his almost overwhelming delight in my simple presence, nothing else. In that moment, I felt the worth of my being apart from any doing or knowing or speaking. I didn't have anything to say--and I felt the freedom of not having to think of something to say. I was free to simply be.
Don't get me wrong; words are necessary and powerful. I wouldn't write or work at a publishing company if I didn't think so. But the relief and grace I experienced in that moment of retreat made me aware of how often I feel pressure not just to say something but to say something clever, or funny, or thought-provoking, or revolutionary. If we kept track of our words, I think we'd find that, based on what actually comes out of our mouths, we value humorous or informative words even over kind, encouraging, affirming words. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I more often speak to try to make others laugh or to give information than to affirm others. But what a valuable reminder God gave me of the worth of my being, even in my silence. It's a gift I couldn't have received without having nothing to say.
Sometimes having nothing to say is the most valuable gift we can give each other too. Author and pastor John Ortberg preached a sermon on the book of Job a few years ago. He takes a different angle on the book than other sermons I've heard. His focus is on Job's friends who, granted, will not win any "Great Friends in History" awards. However, he expounds not on their hurtful counseling attempts or jabbing accusations but on their first response to Job's pain: they weep, and then sit with him for seven days and nights in ashes and sackcloth and--silence. At the sight of his grief and pain, they have nothing to say. So they don't even try. I don't think anything else could have spoken more grace and healing into Job's raw and broken soul. Their folly came when they said something in an attempt to sound wise and spiritual.
So, at the risk of contradicting myself by writing about the goodness of not saying anything at all, maybe these words will help us reframe our thoughts on why we speak. Words, of course, are good and valuable and necessary--fallen, too, but able to be redeemed and to bring great redemption through Christ. But probably more often than we realize, the greatest gift we can give to God, to others and to ourselves in a given moment is the gift of having nothing to say.