The Purpose of Silence

by Morgan Harper Nichols

For the last four years, our homeschool family has gathered with other families to teach, learn, and grow together. Each mom takes time weaving in her personal touches to the lesson, whether it’s history, science, art, music, or Latin. My friend Dinah teaches the music portion, explaining the notes and beats of a musical composition. But her words resonate into deeper meaning than the subject we’re discussing. “The silent spaces and quiet rests are important and beautiful too. They are a part of the music.”

Sitting next to me, Amy and I exchange knowing looks and she whispers, “That will preach.”

And we both try to grasp the beauty of this waiting, and the purpose of it too. We are in the now, but not yet of our calling and our dreams, wondering about our eventual homes (we are both hoping to build), our kids and their futures (the good, the bad, and the super-messy), and how this darkness of winter can lead to spring in the soul.

Sometimes we find ourselves afloat on a sea like Noah, wandering around in the desert like Moses, or stuck in an unjust cell like Joseph. It’s tempting to equate the silence or darkness with God’s absence, but He’s not far off. He’s here and He hasn’t forgotten His promise to us. His time is not ours. Noah spent over 100 years building the ark. The Israelites trudged through the desert for 40 years, and Joseph came to power 13 years after God gave him prophetic dreams. Think they had moments of doubt or frustration? Do you think they wondered if God had abandoned them?

I think sometimes we see all the waiting as punishment, but when you view the process itself as a present, you can appreciate the silent spaces in life’s music. “When something breaks down or does not go as planned, we are given a glimpse of our great need. Like a vast emptiness. We pray for solutions, crying out for immediate help, but God desires to give us something more. To give something real. Something we can see with our eyes and feel on our skin. Like a baby born to us.

“But first he fills that emptiness with his silence. And we turning our ears to it, are made ready to recognize his answer. We are made ready to recognize him. I imagine the silence building and building over centuries until those strained their ears, like Simeon and Anna in the temple, could hear the silence speak, ‘I am coming. Hold on. I am coming.’ ” (Roots and Sky, Christie Purifoy)

We are all awaiting the next crescendo and final climax that leaves us weeping with joyful relief. This Advent, we wait and hope with those who anticipated his coming for hundreds of years, knowing it would come to pass just as He said. And in like faithfulness, He will fulfill His promise to return again. We know that His waiting shows His mercy and compassion.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

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