Silence is Golden
To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven…A time to keep silence and a time to speak. –Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7b
Sometimes having professional training in counseling makes me more aware of unhealthy or ineffective dynamics between people. One thing that often stands out to me is when I see well-meaning people reaching out to someone with a problem. The dynamics I often see involve this: Person A—let’s call them “The Burdened”—has a problem and attempts to talk about their issue with Person B. Person B—let’s call them “The Fixer”–, listens briefly and then proceeds to talk The Burdened’s ears off, quoting scripture, dispensing reams of wisdom, and “you need to do this”, and “I had that same problem”, followed by the long, overly detailed version of what happened to them. Meanwhile, The Burdened really wishes The Fixer would just stop talking and focus on them for five minutes so they can work out their issue.
Sound familiar? If you’ve ever been The Burdened, you know how frustrating it can be to feel like you aren’t being heard. All you want to do is bounce your thoughts and feelings off of someone objective while you sort things out in your head. You don’t need them to give you “the” answer, you just need them to listen and care. The problem is, many of us believe if someone comes to us with an issue, it is our job to have the answer and fix it for them (which may reflect some codependency issues on our part). The reality is, sometimes the most helpful thing we can do for another person is to—can I say this on a Christian blog?—shut up. Put your cell phone and all other distractions away, stop looking for every opportunity to turn the conversation back to you, and just listen. It is incredibly powerful to be fully present with someone who is struggling, and to give them your full and undivided attention. It communicates caring in a very impactful way.
Once we focus our total attention on the other person, we then need to resist the urge to overwhelm them with too much advice, as well-intentioned as it may be. Even in professional counseling, the research consistently shows that what technique you use with a client is not nearly as important as the relationship and rapport you have with that client. It’s important to realize that often times as a person talks out their issue they will begin to figure out the solution on their own without any “wisdom” from us. Now, advice is not necessarily a negative thing, but it is like a strong spice; a little goes a long way. It’s also important whatever advice we do offer is led by the Spirit and not our own flesh or our own hidden agenda.
I challenge all of us to be better listeners this week. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, and to be more fully present with people around us this week.