Listen closely: In the silence, we can learn to hear God

It was 9 p.m. I had been sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen, for nearly 30 minutes. I had to write, but nothing came to mind. “God, please give me something to say.”

It was Saturday, and while I had every intention of preparing my sermon the night before, children and exhaustion got the best of me.

“Lord, I need something to say. Please talk to me.” I sat there for nearly an hour, waiting for God to speak. But nothing came. Not even a creaking in the wall or a flicker of the light.

I began to think of all the people I knew who really heard from God. My grandmother says God talks to her all the time. Members of my congregation share regularly about the things God says to them. I’ve even taught a class on knowing how to hear God’s voice. But, it was Saturday night and, although I prayed, there was only silence.

In an age where noise is the norm, silence is awkward. It’s like the uninvited guest that shows up for a house party.

When silence comes, no one knows what to do. We bumble around, trying to think of something to say or do that would make silence turn and walk away. It’s hard to embrace silence when everything and everyone around you is speaking. It’s even harder when silence is around you, but noise carries on within you.

As I sat there in the unintended silence of the night, I began to wonder if anyone else in scripture experienced this pain. While I had an image in my mind that God was always speaking in the Bible, I came to realize this was far from true.

Elijah experienced silence as the presence of God. Job’s friends were most effective when they sat with him in silence. Habbakuk says the whole earth should be silent when God is in His temple. But the most striking time of silence came when Jesus was in the grave.

We are used to celebrating the noisy times: Palm Sunday when the people shouted “Hosanna in the highest.” Maundy Thursday when Jesus taught the disciples at a talkative Passover table. Good Friday when Jesus cried out in the midst of his pain. And, of course, Easter Sunday when even the angels spoke that Jesus is alive.

We like coming together over the noisy portions of faith, but in so doing, we miss out on what happens in the silence.

In the time between crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus lay silent in the grave. To an external observer, it would have looked like the end of the story. But, even in the silence, God had something to say. By saying nothing, God literally said it all: I am here.

The silence of that Saturday reminds us that God is present, even when we cannot hear Him. The absence of words does not mean the absence of presence. When we cannot hear God, we must trust that God is here.

Trusting in the nearness of God, I eventually wrote my sermon that night. There were no flashing lights of revelation. There was no writing on the wall. There was only silence. Silence and God’s presence. Sometimes, that’s all we really need.

The Rev. Nicole Martin is executive minister at The Park Church.