And in the silence… (which will come eventually…)

So, I’m at a church service and the minister talks about something which he wants to give us the opportunity to talk to God about quietly, and if it was up to me he’d say something like “Let’s spend a few moments in silence talking to God about this issue” and then he’d shut up and let us do it…

But the form of torture I find myself exposed to again and again is something like this:

“Let’s spend a few moments in silence now, talking to our heavenly Father in the quiet of our own hearts… [at which point I naively think: great, yes, let’s… but he goes on…] Let’s tell him honestly and sincerely how we feel… [me: now? oh no, not yet, he’s carrying on] Let’s take a few moments to really tell God about our struggles with this issue… [me: chance would be a fine thing] Let’s bow our heads [me: why? but that’s for another post] and pour our hearts out to our Father, who is always willing to listen…” and so on and on and on…

I’m afraid that by the time we get to the actual silence I’ve lost the thread of what it was we were going to be talking to God about, because I’m too full of the frustration that has been accumulating inside me whilst listening to this guy telling me that he’s going to give me some time of silence to talk to God but telling me at such great lengths that I lose hope that he’s ever going to really let us do it. And then the silence is so brief that there’s no time to think what you want to say, let alone say it. Thirty seconds seems to be some people’s idea of a long time of silence, I’ve seen it end abruptly after 20 seconds.

Sorry, but to me this is torture. And because I’ve seen it happen again and again, and because I’ve seen how maddeningly short these moments of silence tend to be (at least in my church – I’m sure there are churches that do this better), I’ve kind of given up and I just don’t try any more – if as soon as I’ve got started I’m going to have to stop, then what’s the point? I’d rather make a mental note of whatever it was and then talk to God about it quietly at home, when nobody is going to barge in on me mid-thought.

If there are any ministers reading this – spare a thought for those of your flock who are more reflective and need more time. We can’t all race through a deep and meaningful prayer in twenty seconds and be ready to move on to the next thing!

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6 thoughts on “And in the silence… (which will come eventually…)

  1. Yes. It seems that, in evangelical circles, we are strargers to silence; we don’t really believe that our Father will speak to us in slence. Silence frightens us, but we know it’s supposed to be good, so we keep it out by talking about it. Two examples:
    1) Little Paul, aged 4, had never been to church before. His parents had only just become Christians. So they gave him a good talking-to before they took him to church. During the few seconds silence as the minister climbed the pulpit steps and got his bearings, a little voice rang out: ‘Paul mustn’t talk!’.
    2) A minister called for a time of silent prayer while we waited on God and opened ourselves up to God and listened to what he would tell us. Immediately a young man blurted out: “Thank you Lord for the silence, where we can listen to you, get away from the hurly-burley of life and listen to your voice………”, and he dragged out every cliche you could imagine about silence, on and on.

    Perhaps the person leading the prayer time could say: ‘Now we’re going to have x minutes of silence’, and then time himself strictly before he ends it.

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    • ah yes, your second example is a good reminder that it’s not just the ministers or preachers who do this sort of thing…

      “Perhaps the person leading the prayer time could say: ‘Now we’re going to have x minutes of silence’, and then time himself strictly before he ends it.” – I think that would be helpful, if they say how long it’s going to be and then time themselves. I’ve used the silent self-timing in that sort of situation and found it helpful, as otherwise you can just feel like it’s been long enough when it hasn’t.

      The other thing that I think would be hugely helpful is if they didn’t keep pausing between sentences when introducing the time of quiet, because that is just so confusing – you’re expecting the silence to start and then you find it isn’t starting yet.

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  2. Hahahaha… this is so hilarious but so true!

    p/s Sorry I didn’t mean to laugh at the seriousness of your blog.

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  3. yep! I talked to my pastor about this… he said a lot of people (especially in the modern plugged-in age) get profoundly uncomfortable with silence of any sort for any more than ten seconds… he felt like he was always trying to balance the (many) people afraid of silence out with the (few) who actually knew they needed the silence, and it was difficult for him to strike a balance.

    As we talked, we both realized it would be helpful to give the church something optional to DO… now he usually hands out slips of paper or has them in the bulletin, so we can write out our thoughts on [whatever] if we want to, or just write a reminder. Sometimes he hands out the offering plate so people can give the church their thoughts, but without any pressure to do so.

    Probably a few people write notes to each other, or play tic-tac-toe, I don’t know… but the writing keeps them more comfortably quiet for a little longer, and I usually write cryptic notes to myself so that I can process later. It seems to work better than anything else our very extroverted/sensing church has tried…

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    • That’s an excellent idea! In fact I have seen this kind of thing done once or twice, when the silence was for us to talk to God about something in particular – something that the sermon was meant to challenge us about – and we were given pieces of paper to write down whatever it was that came up for us and then pass them to the front as a way of acting out that we’re offering it to God. But if we were to extend it to any time of silence, it would give the more extroverted people something to do and they’d feel less at sea.

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