For a couple of days last month I was sick and could not talk. At first, I continued trying to speak even though it was painful. Finally, I gave up.
My husband and I communicated mostly with hand gestures. I also shook my head a lot at the things I did not want or did not need, nodded at what I desired and was offered. I wrote him notes asking for this thing or the other, telling him thank you for what had been done. For a few days it was quiet around our house and before long I settled into the new way of communicating.
It turns out I didn’t really need to talk as much as I would have thought.
Maybe it’s the twenty nine years of marriage and the very fact that we know each other so intimately we don’t have to talk about everything any longer; he knows me well enough to know my likes and dislikes.
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Maybe it’s because I spent most hours in the bed and was simply unavailable for conversation, or maybe it’s because there was a real lack of necessity for talk since I was sick and not interested in actually relating with anyone.
Whatever the reason, I’m not sure why I didn’t become frustrated or felt unheard. All I know is I came to see how little I really did need or even have to say.
In this first month of the year many people choose to make resolutions to cut back on food or possessions and let go of excess. Some are planning to lose weight, cutting out excess calories, and reduce the number of sugary snacks. Some want a neater living or work space and are cleaning out closets, resolving not to have as many things stacked in the corners or filling up drawers and shelves. And there are some choosing to ‘unhook’ from social media, staying in touch with the friends they decide matter while letting go of contacts that are not considered significant.
All of these means of reduction are admirable and in January or during the season of Lent I often choose such a discipline of minimizing, downsizing, of letting go.
This year, however, I am thinking less about pounds and possessions and more about my words, about my routine ways of conversation and have decided to make more room for silence. I see now that I don’t have to say everything I think. I can wait before making a reply. I will start my prayers with silence. I will sit back before jumping forward with the need to fill space with chatter or to make sure I get my two cents in.
There are many quotes and beautiful sayings about the benefit of silence but my favorite comes from the Navajo people. “Listen,” they remind us, “or your tongue will keep you deaf.”
It’s nice to have my voice back but it’s nicer still to realize I don’t always have to use it.
Lynne Hinton is a co-pastor of Mt. Hope United Church of Christ in Whitsett (Guilford County) and author. Her newest book is Traveling Light. Learn more: www.lynnehinton.com