Wednesday’s Word of the Day: Silence

25 10 2011

Today’s word is silence.  Suprisingly, at least to me, this word has several meanings and is in two forms; a noun and a verb.  The forms share the meanings of stillness, quiet, rest, and calm.  Similarly, the verb form has a definition meaning to put to an end, i.e. with the victory, the quarterback silenced his critics.  In my mind, this raises the question:  Is silence the best way to combat criticism?

The word is rooted in Old French and Latin.  The Old French word is silence from the Latin silentium from silens which is the past participle of silere which means “be quiet or still.”  Therefore the Latin literally means quiet, and from the definitions it can mean the stillness of the body, mind, spirit, or mouth.   I am beginning to appreciate silence.  There is safety in silence.  There is peace.  If our minds and mouths are constantly moving, there is little room for much else to enter.  Silence allows room for others, especially the most important Other.

Which leads me back to the question, “Is silence the best way to combat criticism?”  I believe the definitions of silence answer this question in the affirmative.  There is an axiom that says, “Actions speak louder than words,” and silence and action can disprove our critics better than word. The voices that criticize come from external and internal sources.  Because I tend toward pessimism, I interpret every potentially negative comment or action as a critical one.  During the summer, I went to meet a friend at a local coffee shop who was planning an event with a mutual friend.  The mutual friend asked if I was thinking of helping, and I responded that I might be.  And then he said, “The entire time that I’ve known you, I’ve never known you to be very helpful!”  I used to assist this man quite often in set-up and tear down for our church.  I volunteered  running presentations during worship and the sermon and in leading children’s Sunday school.  I was cut to the quick.  His word sank into my mind. And I ruminated on them.

This is where the second source of criticism comes in to play.  The internal voice.  Often, our harshest critics are ourselves, and  scripture even indicates that “our hearts condemn us.”  As with the previously mentioned situation, we can internalize external sources of criticism and make them our own.  We repeat their words, their criticism, their condemnation, their judgment, and we can become distraught, distracted, and defeated.  What’s more, our past failures, even issues we have dealt with at the Cross, shout condemnation and insults.  “You will always struggle with this or that.”  “You are the worst person ever.”  “Only you live with this struggle.” and the list goes on.

I should stop at this point and say their are valid voices of criticism from within and without. Knowing the difference is the key.  Usually, the One who knows the difference is our Heavenly Father, our Abba Father.  He is the daddy who knows best, and He can tell us whether the words we have heard or speak are true.  The hard (and best part) is His voice is the most quiet.  I say hard for obvious reasons because it can be difficult to hear, and I say best because He is gentle.  Gentleness is one part of the fruit of His Spirit, and if His Spirit produces it, you can be assured He has it.

Going back to silence, scripture has a lot to say.  Having already talked here about solitude, it is important to note that these two things go together.  We have to be alone, free from distraction to hear His voice.  We have to fight through the negative voices in our heads, those voices of others, ourselves, and our enemy.  Jesus words about the enemy, who “comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; [but He] came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly,” help me in this fight.  This abundant life is found in the still and quiet, as in Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” Or in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Finally, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  He also tells us, “for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

The beauty of Abba Father, Jesus the Son, and Holy Spirit is that all three testify the truth to us.  The reality of the unsurrended life is bleak; full of fear, anxiety, and distractions.  Freedom can be found by beginning in solitude and silence, surrendering your life completely to Abba Father, and hearing the truth about yourself, acknowledging the bad, and replacing it with His good. Once you fight through your distractions, you will be able to hear His voice.  As Henri Nouwen once said, “silence protects the inner heat…[which] is the life of the Holy Spirit within us.”

Silence is the best defense against criticism and the best weapon against our flesh.  How do you practice finding solitude and silence?  What verses speak to you on this subject?  How do you handle your own negative internal dialogue? 

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