Do you know the sound of silence?
Once upon a time, I played the flute in the school orchestra. I especially enjoyed playing those musical pieces where a portion of the score built up to a crescendo, followed by a moment of silence where all the instruments paused at once. It only lasted a beat or two and then the strings would quietly start again. It was a powerful moment. That silence wasn’t a random absence of sound; it was placed there by the composer as a key part of the music. It was essential to the movement and feel of the piece. The lack of sound was almost a sound in itself.
Sometimes, we hear the sound of silence in our spiritual life. Perhaps we’ve prayed and prayed and still no answer comes. Maybe we’ve been in a long season of waiting and the silence grows increasingly loud as the days wear on. Or maybe we find ourselves in a spiritual wilderness where the fog of doubt and uncertainty is thick. We feel all alone. Abandoned. Forgotten. And the silence makes us think God has turned and simply walked away. We start to think he’s given up on us and begin to wonder if we should too.
Yet I wonder if we might have the wrong assumption about God’s silence. Perhaps God’s silence isn’t silence at all. Perhaps what seems like silence is actually an important pause in the score of our life. Because it’s often in the quiet where the real work takes place. We see this truth lived out in the stillness of winter. When there’s no rustling leaves on the trees or acorns dropping to the ground or squirrels scurrying in the brush, life continues on in the quiet of the earth underground. We also know that in the darkness of the womb, a child is knit together. Even before her mother feels the first stirring of life, her heart beats strong. And in the quiet of each night, while all the world sleeps, our bodies and minds continue their labors, drawing breath and circulating blood and firing synapses.
God, too, is at work, even in the silence. God is at work especially in the silence.
Often, the silence is the work.
I’ve been thinking about this over these many months of our present crisis. Individually and corporately, we’ve faced loss and heartache and uncertainty. We’ve cried out in prayer for God to step in and fix the brokenness. Many of us wait for his response. In that waiting, all we hear is the sound of God’s silence.
I can’t help but think of the prophet’s words in Lamentations 3, “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (vv. 25-26). It is good to wait for God. God is good to us who wait. There is good in quietly waiting on the Lord.
There is good in the silence.
Silence forces us to hear things we can’t hear in the usual cacophony of life. It makes us sit alone and notice those things we often avoid or drown out with busyness and other distractions. Our thoughts, feelings, desires, and motivations become our only companions. The silence gives us an opportunity to take an honest look at ourselves. To see what we truly love and trust and hope in. To perhaps realize how fickle our hearts are and how far we’ve wandered from God. To see lies we’ve long believed and lived by. And, ultimately, to grasp just how much we need God’s grace poured out in our lives. That we need him and can’t live without him. That he alone is our life.
Then, like the flash of light in the darkest night, God breaks the silence. The Spirit prompts our hearts and reminds us of what is true. And we realize God has been there all along. The fog lifts and we see the trail of his grace that both led us into the silence and remained there beside us.
We all have seasons of waiting in the Christian life. In those seasons, God may be silent. The prophet encourages: “Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope…For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam. 3:28-29,30-31). The sound of God’s silence will not last forever. It is but a pause used for his good purposes in our lives. When all is quiet, we must remember and rest in his steadfast love. We must wait with expectation, knowing his timing is perfect. He will execute the next note in perfect time with his will and plan.
One day, all the silences of life will find their place in the score of our lives and we’ll hear it played out in its completion. We’ll hear the most beautiful composition ever played, the song God wrote before time began, the song of redemption.