Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Silent Treatment

When my Beloved and I first married, I told him that one of the things I most appreciated about him was his willingness to honor my silences. Those were the times when I was very much enjoying just being with him, but had no need to make conversation. The silence itself became communication. It indicated comfort, peace, awareness of one another without the need to know interior thoughts or keep the space between us filled with words and chatter.

This goes both ways, of course. As I wish my silences to be honored, I get to honor his. Naturally, that becomes the more complex task. Because when he chooses silence, my gut reaction is “I’m getting the silent treatment.”

Yes, the “silent treatment.” Does anyone not know what that is? It’s that time when someone whom we consider significant in our lives (parent, spouse, child, friend) turns the cold shoulder to us and will not speak or communicate for a period of time. Often that period of time extends until the one on the receiving end of the silence changes behavior in some way or another. That kind of silence is the classic power play—used to manipulate another into changing something or there will be no restoration of communication and connection.

Since all of us need to feel connection with those significant people, the silent treatment can be a way to promote change, but it is not an especially effective way. The change that results is generally given grudgingly, with the “I promise not to do that again” made with fingers crossed behind our backs. Even worse, the anguish experienced in the silent treatment means we may lose our ability to savor silence, whether it comes from God or from those around us.

Noise assaults us everywhere. Sirens, talk radio, road noise, IPOD’s blaring in headpieces, screaming fans at athletic contests, phones ringing without ceasing, people yelling at one another. Not all sounds are bad, of course. I find few more pleasant that that of a toddler’s joyful belly laugh, or a piece of exquisite music exquisitely played, or that of my Beloved calling to me or the voice of one of my friends or relatives on the phone. But even those pleasant sounds can overwhelm us when we chose not to find periods of real silence.

In silence we find the place to do necessary self-examination. When God seems silent, we have the opportunity to discover the real depth of our faith. In silence, we can find the joy of being alone without being lonely. Only those who know the joy in being alone can offer themselves freely to others in companionship, for then companionship becomes a gift, rather than a demand to fill the void of loneliness. In silence, we may actually hear the still, small voice of our God calling us to a place of love and repentance and re-connection. In silence, we may discover with each other a communion that makes verbal communication look crass and cheap in comparison. In silence, we may truly learn to honor one another the way we wish to be honored. In silence, our salvation may come upon us and make us whole.

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