Written by: Dr. Joe McKeever
The Gift Of Silence Is Not A Gift, It’s Sort Of A Camellia
by Dr. Joe McKeever
First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana
In his best-selling book, John Adams, David McCullough tells of President Adams’ admiration for George Washington’s gift of silence. Adams said, “I esteem (it) as one of the most precious talents.”
Over the years I have singled out a few special friends to admire in a deeper way and tried to spend time with them whenever possible. Not one given to self-analysis, I had not stopped to consider what in these friends attracted me. I knew we are drawn to people who have qualities we do not, just as sweethearts are attracted to their opposites. Not until I read Mr. Adams’ statement about Washington did I realize what it was. My special friends have a gift for silence.
I’ve always been a talker, an affliction or an asset-sometimes one, sometimes both-which I evidently share with our second president. Whenever there is void in a conversation, I rush to fill it. While you are telling a story, my mind is sorting through the tales I know to find one you will enjoy. The only thing better than hearing a great story is telling it myself.
Yet, I find myself drawn to people with that quality which Adams admired so much in Washington: the ability to think a good thought and keep it to oneself. It’s probably nothing less than a strong, inner peace.
Not long ago, I was headed to a meeting where a lot of preachers would be gathered. Knowing my love for talking – and the self-reproach that frequently follows an occasion in which I overdid it – I prayed the prayer of Psalm 141:3 as I ‘have done almost every day for years.
Set a guard upon my mouth, 0 God.
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
This time, I added, “And Lord, would you please give me the gift of silence.” On the way home, I thought back over how I had set new records for talkativeness that day and prayed, “It’s very obvious you did not give me the gift of silence, Lord.” Just so clearly came His word to my heart, “Silence is not a gift; it’s a work.”
That was a new thought – which is one of the ways I know it was from Heaven – and right on target (that’s the other way). I would have to work at disciplining myself, not simply pray a little prayer and be delivered from a trait which went all the way back into childhood.
A child, I think, must have been the first to discover that the letters in the word “silent” also form the word “listen.” The two activities seem to go hand in hand. John Drakeford, in his book “The Awesome Power of the Listening Heart,” writes, “Listening is the supreme communication skill, the top-line administrative technique, the salient counseling method, the key to conversation the primary motivational technique-but it is generally overlooked.”
In an old book of sermons titled “The Significance of Silence,” Leslie Weatherhead quotes Pascal the 17th century philosopher: “All the evils of life have fallen upon us because men will not sit quietly in a room.”
Many of us have thought that the three great plagues of our day – hurry, crowds, and noise-were recent afflictions of the human race. Apparently, their opposites – stillness, solitude, and silence – have long been a crying need of those who would be at peace with themselves and God.
The veteran professor and writer Wayne Oates understood this. In his 1979 book, “Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart,” he writes, “Silence is like camellias to me.” He had watched a friend grow these flowers in a part of the country to which they were not native. He noticed how she spent time and energy and great effort to grow the flowers on their terms and not hers.
Silence is not native to my world. Silence, more than likely, is a stranger to your world, too. If you and I ever have silence in our noisy hearts, we are going to have to grow it on terms which are not yet our own. You can nurture silence in your noisy heart if you value it, cherish it, and are eager to nourish it as my friend does her camellias.
I can think of a dozen things to say about that, but I won’t. I’m going to try sitting here and thinking about it quietly. Pray for me.
©2002 Used by permission of the author, Dr. Joe McKeever. To get a free subscription of Joe McKeever’s articles go to his website, www.fbckenner.org.
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