The Gift and Curse of Silence

They say so much good comes from meditation, from grounding walks along sandy beaches or even loud city scapes as long as you learn to quiet the constant white noise in your head. They say you should unplug everyone once in awhile, choose silence while you make dinner over catching up on the latest podcasts.

They say we’re all too busy and too distracted. They say it’s good to be alone. They say it’s good to shush out life so you can hear and feel the sound of deep, diaphragmatic breaths. They say you should write out your fears and anxiety, dotting journal pages chalked full of irrationality for no one to ever see.

Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

They say you should soak in hot baths full of Epsom salt & essential oils. They say you should grab your coffee mug while its hot, with both hands so you can get in touch with your senses.

They say you should go outside as much as possible where the air is -mostly- cleaner and where the Vitamin D from the sun can grace your skin giving you that much needed boost. 

That’s what they say, y’all.

What they don’t say is how all this silence opens up boxes delivered to your door with your name on it bearing the gift of pain. You race to door, a new package!

‘Oh look, a gift for meeeee? I never expected this!’

And then wham! Your gift hits you like a ton of bricks: the pent up sorrows, the realizations of years past, the disappointment of so many people perhaps especially yourself. It’s all there, all laid bare. If your deep in, there’s no where to run, no where to hide. There is no suitable distraction and none will be found even if you try. Good luck with that.

I started my journey into what I called “quiet times,” back in college. The lingo I picked up from a campus ministry I was a part of. The “quiet time” was time you set aside each day to be with the Lord…perhaps a time of intentional silence, followed by prayer using the A.C.T.S. method (adoration, confession, thanksgiving & supplication), a time of intentional Bible study & if time permitted, journaling lessons & ideas, applications, thoughts or poetry inspired by deep fellowship with the Lord. 

Roughly 20 years ago, when I began this practice I noticed a few things right away… I loved the silence, the actual quiet. Why had no one else explained the value of this to me even outside of my faith? Growing up in the 80’s & 90’s before iPads and cell phones, DVD players & Playstations I’m wondering if silence was more of a given. Second, the practice led to a deeper relationship with God, which increased my faith and as a byproduct my happiness…among other things. In short, it was working. Something was working and I fell in love with this daily practice. Not just love, but need. I needed this time like I needed air.

Time pushed on and life bulldozed through my plans with all of its cruelty and loss and horrors, I allowed myself the space to think and grieve. Those ‘quiet times’ shifted into crying times. And the tears poured and poured and poured.

I was in college at the time and my Ma had taken a turn for the worst. Her paranoid schizophrenia was wildly out of control. As the last born of 4, I was the only one left at home bearing the brunt of what felt like someone purposefully emotionally torturing you. It was awful. Yet, I took the fear and the pain of it straight to God and found solace in the silence even as I wept.

Nothing has been terribly consistent in the last two decades of my life, except those quiet times. I still make space for God every day, though it’s shifted and morphed. I don’t follow the A.C.T.S. method & it’s been at least 8 years since I printed out a manuscript and used color pencils to study the Bible. (insert cry face emoji because that really is the best way to get the most out of it). I more typically use a guided devotional and I pray throughout the day as I go rather than in one spot for a set time. I write in apps now more than journals and I record a few paragraphs at a time rather than the 4-5 pages I was known for doing before I had kids.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: the time I set aside for silence is where it is not. If I can’t safely scream, rage, thrash and lament when I’m with the Lord …where can I? Trust me, there’s no pastor or clergy who wants to hear what I have to say when I’m lamenting our narcissistic president, abuse or injustice against black women. The anger, the sadness, the emotions are raw and real. Frankly, God is the only one I trust with that type of information. But what that looks like is, essentially, a woman in a lot of pain. My silence is not a calm woman sitting with legs crossed on the floor chanting and humming in a pretty Yoga pose.

I practice solitude. I get quiet every day. I do all the things they say you should do to practice self-care. But none of that keeps me from pain and in fact it forces me to feel it even *gasp* welcome it. 

Making space to get quiet should come with a warning: ‘you may experience buyer’s remorse. No refund available. Deal with your life boo-boo.’

Twenty years of spending time in daily intentional silence and I’ve somehow still only managed to barely survive my own addictions nor surmount the ill effects of growing up in extreme trauma. Yet, I can’t imagine who’d I be or where I’d be if I hadn’t built this practice into my life. Would I even still be alive if I hadn’t placed an outlet for repressed rage and a space to swivel though the grief process? I can’t say. I don’t think so.

The other day, I was roaring with tears…lamenting to God on a deep, guttural level, no words were spoken… but the angst of my body in all of it’s anxiety was forcing out the silent sentiment that everything hurts. Everything. Hurts. Outside & inside, top to bottom and bottom back to top, it all hurts.

The understanding of the reality of this moment is the gift of silence as I see it. At least I wasn’t out drinking to the point of numbness. No, I was there facing it, living my life, painful as it felt in that moment, I was alive to it in every way. 

That is the gift of silence. It’s where we truly live.

Grace Sandra
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