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The Wisdom of Shutting our Mouths

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Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it out. (Proverbs 20:5, HCSB)

One of the hardest tools I learned in my graduate studies was the art of silence. For many of us, when we are in a conversation with another person, silence is so AWKWARD. Our instinct is to quickly try to fill it! To avoid silence, we ask questions. We try to relate by sharing our own experiences. Or, we might just change the whole subject in general.

In our efforts to avert the uncomfortable moment, we might miss what is most important. As counselors, part of our job is to walk right in to awkward. Sometimes this involves asking questions. Other times, we are charged with sharing hard truths in love. Yet, sometimes silence is the tool needed to draw out what lies inside the heart of another.

In the counseling setting and even in our every day relationships, there is a realm of understanding that requires silence. I’m not talking about lazy silence that checks out, tunes out or zones out. Intentional silence is actively engaging someone with the dogged determination to understand.

At first glance, it may appear obvious. “I can’t actively listen to the other person if I am talking!” This is true. But, silence can play a further role. Not only does our silence allow us to hear the other person when he or she is speaking, but our silence helps unlock the depths inside a person. In moments of intentional silence, the deepest places of a person’s heart can be discovered.

I love to scuba dive. It absolutely blows me away to encounter the incredible creation God tucks beneath the surface of His ocean waters. To the person lying on the beach, the eyes see a stretch of unending blue water glistening in the sun. However, when you strap on your scuba gear and dive into that ocean, a world of amazing discovery awaits! As soon as you are submerged, deafening silence greets your ears. Yet, your senses are ignited by the world around you. You see fish in a thousand different colors and shapes. Sharks, dolphins, and eels swim free. I’ll never forget holding the fuzzy head of a little octopus! And, if you’re especially fortunate, you might find yourself swimming with a whale! In the silence of the deep waters lie exquisite treasures. 

A person’s heart is like those deep ocean waters full of treasures. A wise person with understanding will take the time to swim in those moments of silence and draw out the treasures inside. What fills up a person will determine what we find. If a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, wise counsel and truth will flow out like a bubbling spring of water refreshing the listener’s ears and uplifting the heart. When a person is consumed by their sin nature and has lost his or her way, the lies believed and diseased roots of sin will be revealed. Once those troubling sources of pain and death are exposed, the path to healing becomes clear. A wise counselor understands the art of intentional silence and allows space for the treasures within a person’s heart to be drawn out.

Examples of intentional silence:

·      You ask a question. You are certain the person understands and has heard the question. You sit patiently in silence waiting for the person to share.

Sometimes a person needs time to process the thoughts or beliefs held on the inside. Engaged silence allows space to gather thoughts and communicates value in being willing to wait.

·      A person shares a thought that according to scripture is clearly misguided and untrue. Before sharing biblical truth in love, you sit in silence allowing him or her to reflect on what was just spoken.

Sometimes untrue beliefs are exposed if a person hears the lie spoken out loud.

·      A person shares a terribly painful experience or deeply troubling emotion. Rather than jump in with immediate comfort or words of direction, you sit in a moment of silence actively engaging in the weight of that moment.

Sometimes people need permission to cry or feel pain in front of another person. Compassionate and engaged silence creates space for vulnerability and healing to happen.

Just as silence holds value in the counseling setting, it also applies to our relationship with God!

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10a, NLT)

Pay attention, Job, and listen to me. Be quiet, and I will speak. (Job 33:31, HCSB)

Sometimes in the silence, the Holy Spirit speaks the loudest. 

Posted on February 12, 2015