Sometimes silence is all that we can offer and is exactly what is needed.
A recent bout of laryngitis became my teacher when a nasty cold landed in my throat, holding my voice captive. For several days, only squeaky, crackling utterances or raspy, strained whispers emerged from my mouth. It was not a bit sexy. When with others, I had to choose whether to use my frail voice or rest it and be silent.
Paying attention to my imposed silence, I realized that there is quite a lot of babble that comes out of my mouth daily. Yes, sadly it’s true. By “babble,” I’m referring to unnecessary words that don’t enhance the situation—things that can be left unsaid. I don’t always need to contribute something to the conversation, even though I am a bubbly extrovert. It was a humbling experience in self-awareness. It’s so easy to add to the noise of this world.
An ancient saying out of the mystical tradition of Islam, known as Sufism, is wonderfully instructive, regardless of our health:
“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?”
When my voice box was ailing there were only a handful of times that it was truly necessary to speak. One was the day that my dear friend’s mother was dying. Becky’s mother had been in ICU for 10 days with pneumonia. When I got her text that the situation was grim and death was imminent, I knew I needed to talk with my friend, if I was able.
Please let me be a conduit of solace, encouragement, and love, I silently prayed. With a deep breath, I called Becky’s cell phone and greeted her with gentle words that were somehow audible. But mostly I listened.
Real listening is immersed in silence and is a precious form of presence. Quiet tears flowed down my face. Before saying good-bye, I wanted to offer a prayer aloud over the phone, as that’s what we do for each other when one of us is facing a crisis. It was a mini-miracle that she was able to hear my prayer for her sweet mama and the family.
I’ve since recovered, and the only thing Becky remembers about our call was my presence, not my ailing, squeaky voice. “Were you really sick?” she asked. Amazing grace!
Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Can you imagine our world if we paused and allowed our words to pass through those three gates? What false, needless, and unkind words would remain unspoken?
Ahhhhhh, sweet, precious silence often serves others in ways that words cannot.