Learning the art of silence in a noisy world

There is joy in knowing when to shut up and when to speak up

We live in very noisy times. It appears silence is unacceptable. In some places, noise seems to be synonymous with excellence and significance.

It is said that failure to know the meaning of something easily leads to its abuse and misuse. Since most of us are poor listeners, true silence is no fun. It is therefore important that we become active students of silence.

I have learnt over the years that active silence is what leads to successful communication; to be silent is what enables one to be listened to.

An important tip I received from a caring friend is that I have to be willing to unclean bad communication habits I have picked over the years.

For a long time, I was more of a talker than a listener and those who know me closely seem to agree that I have had tremendous improvement for which I am truly grateful.

Mary G. Durkin puts it well: “Most family difficulties can be traced to misunderstanding or lack of good communication skills. If your family members want to understand one another, the family must be willing to be both good listeners and good talkers.”

Family members show respect for each person’s right to speak in the way they choose to listen. When family members choose to be silent when one of them is speaking, major obstacles to forming good communication skills evaporate.

My mentor often says: “You cannot respond right to what you have not heard well.”

When I was taking a family course, our teacher once said that the most important part of effective communication is attentive listening.

In Escaping the Noise, Cindy Hess Kasper says: “Sometimes, it is difficult to escape ‘extra noise…’”

The clamour of both our external and internal worlds can be deafening but when we are willing to “power down”, we begin to understand the necessity of Psalm 46:10 to “be still so we can know God”.

When Prophet Elijah looked for the Lord in 1 Kings 19:9-13, he did not find Him in the pandemonium of the wind or the earthquake or the fire. Instead, Elijah heard God’s gentle whisper.

Some of the questions we may need to answer are: What will help me draw closer to God in true silence? Where can I choose to listen to God’s voice? How can I regularly slow down both my busy mind and devices? Why do I find silence uncomfortable and yet the blessings are numberless?

While it is true that noise and even extra noise is practically unavoidable, we can choose time of stillness when we concentrate to hear the Lord’s voice.

Some of the blessings of planned silence are maturity (character formation), meditation, ministry, more knowledge and much heart nurture.

May silence be given its rightful place in our relationships with God, ourselves and others. The willingness to make the effort to earn the right to be listened to has to arise from the decision to first be a good listener.

Some of the reasons many of us have trouble listening to what others are saying are: Automatic silence is not natural with any of us thus we impatiently interrupt those speaking to us; thinking we already know what the other person is trying to say; failure to appreciate what others have to say to us; unwillingness to learn from others; ingratitude to what God has placed in others for our growth and good; refusal to be a creative silent listener; refusal to believe that human imperfection demands that we sincerely listen to our fellow human beings.

We enhance our relationships through the confidence we get from times of silence. My mentor once reminded me that when it is the turn of others to speak, it is my turn to be silent.

The great need for discernment is the cry of our times: how to know time for sacrifice, service, silence, sorrow and surrender.

What a joy to be able to know when to shut up and when to speak up. We influence both our thoughts positively by how much we choose to enjoy active silence.

May we allow silence to have its rightful place in our fellowships, relationships and hardships.

The writer is the senior pastor of Kenya Assemblies of God, Githurai 44, Nairobi.

Email: nickwaka@gmail.com