At any point during the day, there is an alert mechanism that goes off in my brain when my house becomes too quiet for too long. It’s like a “mom radar” notifying me of an imminent disaster, and unfortunately, it’s usually correct. In our house, prolonged silence is usually the prelude to an inevitable sticky/bloody/flooded/broken mess just around the corner.
As the mom of five (virtual or home-schooling) children, age preschool to high school, I crave silence daily. I look forward to the quiet cup of coffee in the morning, the afternoon lull where I can sit down and breathe, or the evenings with my husband when we can relax and chat or watch a movie. These quiet moments are necessary, and I have learned to carve out these times in my day for my own spiritual and emotional well-being (Keeping in Balance was life-changing for me in this area). These times of silence are “golden,” as they say.
But silence is only golden until it’s not.
While creating silence can be a good thing, there are times when it can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be silent out of fear or anger. Fear and anger can be powerful motivators with devastating effects.
Sometimes we need to say something and we don’t.
That time I could have spoken up in defense of justice or life for those who need an advocate? I silenced a voice in my head that was longing to speak up because I was afraid of what people would think of me. That could have been a moment the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to reach someone’s heart. When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.
Sometimes we need to deal with something and we don’t.
That hurtful memory from my past that I never addressed? I silenced my pain by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. My instinct to bury or sweep it under a rug only delays and magnifies the inevitable pain. As Fr. Richard Rohr says: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Sometimes we need to hear something from God and we don’t listen.
Those times in my day when I turn to my phone or a glass of wine to escape from the stress of the day? I silence the call from God to place all my worries on him because He cares for me  by being lazy and zoning out. Those are missed opportunities to turn to God and allow His voice to penetrate my heart and mind with truth.
Rest assured, sister, this is not how God has called us to handle these situations. He wants us to live fearless and free as his beloved daughters. Walking with Purpose has an entire Bible study devoted to this truth: Fearless and Free. Through this study, we learn to recognize His voice (and therefore our true identity), wrestle with the lies and truths in our minds by taking every thought captive to Christ, and finally reclaim ground and move forward.
It’s also important to remember that we are not big enough to hinder God’s plans. He writes straight with crooked lines. All. The. Time. So if you’re like me and catch yourself silencing something that you shouldn’t, it’s never too late to open up and let God back in. To begin, we have to start by listening to the right voices. Do you recognize the Father’s voice in your life? His is the one that speaks hope, life, and direction into our lives.
P.S. Mark your calendars to join Mallory Smyth and me for live, weekly Lenten discussions of Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study on Facebook and Instagram (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST starting February 18).
 Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Excerpts From Yevtushenko Statement,” New York Times, Originally published in print on February 8, 1974. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/18/archives/excerpts-from-yevtushenko-statement.html.
 Fr. Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” Center for Action and Contemplation, October 17, 2018. https://cac.org/transforming-pain-2018-10-17/.
 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”
I have been avoiding writing this post for hours. I keep finding excuses to get up and walk away from the keyboard. It’s the combination of feeling like I have nothing to say and yet, so much on my mind. And my heart? Well, it’s just a confused mess. I keep thinking that the Lord is going to show up and help me carefully construct a deep, well-written blog post, backed up by Scripture and inspiring stories. And He did show up. Oh, He showed up alright. But He didn’t clear things up for me. Instead, He challenged me. “Speak from the mess. Preach from the confusion.”
And so here we go.
I have been praying the 54-Day Novena for a loved one. If you’re not familiar with the 54-Day Novena, it is a beautiful devotion that consists of saying the Rosary for 54 days in a row. The first 27 days are said in petition—asking Mary for her prayers for a particular intention. The remaining three novenas, said over the last 27 days, are in thanksgiving—whether or not you received what you brought to prayer. This is my second time praying the 54-Day Novena for the same intention. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me feels like the first go at it “didn’t work.”
Last Sunday, on day 27 of my novena, I received a call at 2:00 AM. If you’ve ever received a call at 2:00 AM, you know that rarely is it ever good news. And do you want to know what the very first thing was that came to mind? “It is day 27. The asking is over.”
Just a few hours later, I slipped out of my bed, lit a bright fire, and on bended knees, began the second portion of my novena—the thanksgiving. There in the glow of red and orange flames, I thanked God for answering my prayer, despite the fact that the phone call tempted me to believe quite the opposite. And yet, in that moment, this was not difficult to do. I am a firm believer that some things need to get worse before they get better; that the breakdown always precedes the breakthrough. This was just more breaking down. I fully believed that my prayer was being answered. That it had been answered. It just didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. And so I clung onto hope and resisted the doubt, choosing to walk by faith and not by sight.
Only God sees the bigger picture, after all. With my head bowed in humility, I accepted my sliver of the story and continued whispers of thanksgiving.
But today? Today, thanksgiving feels hard. Today feels like nothing is happening. And if something is happening, well, it feels like moving backwards, away from the prayer. And if you know me at all, you know that I actually prefer being in chaos to feeling like nothing is happening. Chaos allows me to feel like I can still control things. But nothing? You know what nothing does? Nothing ushers me into the waiting room, asks me to take a seat, maybe offers me a cup of coffee, and then...it leaves me there. And oh, how I try to fill nothing with something.
I know! I will listen to a podcast!
I know! I’ll get out my essential oils and make rollers to give away!
I know! I’ll make a phone call!
I know! I’ll get myself a bowl of almonds!
I know! I’ll make a pot of coffee!
I literally did all of these things, practically at the same exact time, because hello lack of focus, so nice of you to join me in my state of nothingness. Have a seat and feel free to confuse me even more! But praise be to God, for He truly can work with anything! Today, it was through the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Have you been silent before the Lord?” she asked. And then she continued, “So often I think that I am praying, but what I am actually doing is repeating my worries over and over to the Lord. Telling Him, ‘I don’t want this’ or ‘I can’t do that’...minimizing all that He can do.” (And yes, I grabbed a pen and paper and made her repeat that because it is GOLD.)
Honestly, friends? No. I have not been silent before the Lord. I am praying my novena and reading my Bible, but silence? As in, just sitting? Not speaking? Not asking for something? No. I have not done that. I have been repeating my worries and calling it prayer.
Forgive me, Jesus.
Perhaps the nothingness I feel today is actually God’s invitation into the silence. It is so hard for me to slow down. I am addicted to projects and filling the space, because it gives me the feeling of being in control while taking my mind off what I have zero control over. And when I do this, I so easily forget that my prayer—that one thing that I repeat over and over again, as if the Lord has forgotten...as if He forgets...as if He isn’t on it—is a battle that belongs to the Lord. And no matter how much I keep trying to convince God that He really needs my help with this, He hands me a day of nothingness instead of promoting me to the fourth person in the Trinity. He reminds me of my nothingness. And He invites me to be silent so that He can speak.
Do you have trouble sitting in the silence before the Lord?
Is waiting on the Lord not at the top of your “fun things to do today” list?
Do you prefer chaos to nothingness?
Are you repeating your worries over and over again and calling it prayer?
If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone. And while I am no expert at waiting in the silence, I do want to share with you what my friend and I have chosen to do in case you’d like to follow along. For the next 30 days, we will be setting aside 20 minutes a day for nothing but silence. Yes. I said 20 minutes. I know...it’s not going to be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is. And we have kept the plan super simple.
Will distractions creep in? You bet. That is why I will dump everything out into my guided prayer journal before I begin.
From the time that I sat down to write until now, a steady snowfall has begun. Birds of gray, red, and white are flocking to the feeder, storing up seeds before the storm. And me? Well, I am going to pour another cup of coffee and marvel at the quiet that is literally falling from the sky, blanketing the earth in perfect silence. And it is right here in the nothingness that I will wait; wait and listen for the Lord.
Speak Lord. Your servant, at long last, is listening.
Writing the last post of 2019 feels like an enormous responsibility. There are so many directions to take this. Do I talk about our resolutions? Share my word of the year? Maybe focus on the Solemnity of Mary that’s just around the corner? And I know I should just pick the most important one out of all of these, but that’s the problem. It all feels important. I can talk all day long about each of these topics. Which makes what happened to me on Christmas Eve all the more remarkable.
I lost my voice.
Being silent is not one of my spiritual gifts. You might recall back in October, I went kicking and screaming to a three-day silent retreat. How’d that turn out, you ask? Ironically, when it comes to describing the silent retreat, I am speechless. All I can say is that God speaks loud in the silence. And thanks to the quiet, my life was radically changed.
Speaking of silence, it is no coincidence that as the year comes to an end, I have found myself drawn more and more to Saint Joseph, a man of no words. It was on the silent retreat that I was introduced to him in a whole new way when a Sister described the familiar scene of Mary and Joseph and no room at the inn. “Here she was,” she said, “pregnant, while on a donkey, and Joseph cannot find her a place to stay.” She continued with four words that I will never forget: “How stressful for Joseph.”
I was certain she was going to say how stressful for Mary.
But she didn’t.
It wasn’t just about Mary.
It was also about Joseph.
An incredible revelation for any woman in a relationship, don’t you think?
Leave it to a humble woman like Mary to lead me to this truth.
2019 was the year I consecrated myself to Mary. She’s my go-to girl. We are tight, me and mama Mary. But lately, Joseph keeps getting thrown in my face. And I am intrigued by it all; by the fact that despite being a righteous man, he stood by Mary. That he said yes to being the foster father to the Son of God. By his faithfulness, trust, obedience, devotion, spiritual leadership, and fortitude. But mostly? By his silence. I think it was his silence that allowed him to surrender and be all of these things. Wanting so badly to silently surrender, I decided that 2020 must be the year I consecrate myself to Joseph. For a girl who loves nothing more than the sound of her own voice, I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a guy like him in my back pocket. Immediately upon this resolution, I felt that sort of thrill and excitement that one gets after a first date that goes really well, and began talking incessantly about Joseph. I talked about him to my husband. I talked about him to my girlfriend. I even talked about him to the dogs. Seriously, anyone who could sit long enough and appear to be listening, I spoke to. I could not stop speaking of Joseph.
Until, I lost my voice.
I will be honest. Losing your voice is never a good thing, but on Christmas Eve? This was so not convenient. I couldn’t help but think how, once again, God’s timing was all wrong. I’d like to say I went in haste to prayer, but went in hesitation is more like it. Quite frankly, I was a little annoyed with God. This time of year is hard enough already. Now, with no voice, how on earth was I to complain to others about how hard it was going to be? Eventually, I made my way to my Bible, and opened up to Saint Luke’s account of the nativity story. Then Scripture did as Scripture does when I shut up long enough to allow it to speak.
“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child.” Luke 2:5
While they were there.
These four words shot into my heart and instantly changed everything.
Being in Bethlehem does not sound like perfect timing for Mary to go into labor.
Not for us, at least.
But for God, it is and it was.
If this was the way for the story to go down, the way for our King to be born, it had to be the right timing, and because we already how this story ends, we know that that this has to be true. What looks like bad timing to us is always perfect timing for God. And how do we refer to this most incredible event? We call it a silent night.
This Christmas, as I sat speechless in front of a fire, I thought about that silent night; of the quiet surrender of both Mary and Joseph that changed the world forever. And how for a man of no words, no one has spoken more loudly in my ear the message God has been sending me all year long:
BE SILENT. God will take care of everything.
As it is written in my Advent devotional, “Zechariah received the great grace of imposed silence.”(1) This Christmas, I believe that I did, too. Next to my furry pink bathrobe, I have to admit, silence has been the greatest gift of all.
Through the intercession of Saint Joseph, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a silent New Year.
(1) Sister Faustina, O.C.D., The Living Gospel Daily Devotions for Advent 2019, Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, reflection for Thursday, December 19, 2019.