Shutting Up When Shutting Up Is Best

One of the people I respect says that a mark of growth, spiritual growth, is saying less.  The need to not say everything that comes to mind.  It’s an exercise in giving up the need to speak for the other equally important, if not more important, need to listen.

Sometimes shutting up is the only thing to do.  Sometimes words not only leave the room, they flee, tripping over themselves to exit.

We had a weekend like that.  Our family has been sitting in confusion for days.  Last Friday my wife’s cousin, Christopher Gary boarded his friend’s sailboat.  James Shepherd was a good boater, according to reports.  So when he, my cousin, and their two friends, Irene and Kristin hopped in the boat and hopped out for a swim, I’m sure they didn’t imagine the tragedy ahead.  We can never really see everything ahead, can we?

Marine units have searched for Christopher since Friday.  When your loved one or relative or friend is missing–and when the last place he was seen is Lake Michigan–it changes the way you look at water.  If you’re able to look at water.  When the wife told me about Chris being missing, the first call when everything was still so possible, I had the same general hopefulness I do in situations like those.  But those situations change to these situations.  Days later when possible isn’t as possible, when tears have stopped while feelings keep moving, when family members have seen a mother on the news in a position she never should be in.  Days later and no Chris. 

When my wife broke down the first time Friday, I couldn’t say a word.  And I talk for a living as they say.  When she returned home from spending time with the family Saturday, I found words, mostly questions, but words still waited way back on the other side of the kitchen and we were in the bedroom.

I’m a writer and pastor.  I get to listen in writing–when characters wake me up with six words that capture that next scene.  I get to listen to people at their best and at their worst.  I’m a husband who is watching his wife and a good chunk of family struggle with too many questions to count. 

Often in my work as a pastor and in the rest of my world right now, saying anything leaves the conversation poorer.  How do you respond to deep pain in the moment?  With a used reaction full of fear and no real hope?  How do you respond to great joy, the kind you can see on a person’s face when dimples dimp and when freckles freck?  “Congratulations” seems so thin. 

So, the post is on shutting up.  Not just shutting up for the sake of shutting up but doing so when all that’s best is shutting up.  When the grown thing to do is sit, hold your tongue, and listen.  Not that listening isn’t work.  It’s active and hard.  It makes me sweat.  Part of the time while I’m doing it I’m pushing back, biting, and clamping down words that make my lips tremble.  After all, there is so much too say.  Usually.

Here’s a question for you: what situations have you found shutting up to be the best response?

7 thoughts on “Shutting Up When Shutting Up Is Best

  1. My heart goes out to all who know Chris.

    I think there are lots of situations where listening and reflecting back to the person what you’ve heard are way more powerful and healing than other types of reactions. Usually these are situations where someone is angry, or just needs to be heard w/out anyone trying to fix anything.
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  2. I find that, no matter what the circumstance, whether it’s conflict, painful situations, or whatever, often what’s needed is space. Space for someone to feel heard. To feel known and understood. To feel and experience the place they’re in. And while I often want or need someone else to be the holder of that space, I rarely want to hear them. I just want to know they’re there.

    I echo Paul – my heart goes out to Dawn and you and all affected by this.

  3. As much foolishness as they may have spouted later, Job’s 3 friends wept aloud and then sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. So says Job 2:12,13

  4. By far…my favorite post of yours so far…considering how much I tend to hate silence…thank you for teaching me the value of it in practice…

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