Last Thursday I began speaking after six weeks on vocal rest. I was confined in this way because of medical reasons, but I believe this physical requirement stemmed from a spiritual one the Lord determined long ago. This post focuses on the spiritual aspect through snapshots of my past six weeks. I am thankful for the ways in which the Lord made Himself known and rejoice in the discovery of The Strength of Silence.
* * *
“Look, Anna!” my mother says.
I look out the car window just in time to read the words on the church sign.
“The Strength of Silence.” My mother says the words aloud. “Perhaps it’s the title of a sermon. But I believe it is meant for you.”
* * *
Back at home I open an email from a friend.
“Hope you aren’t too discouraged about your voice,” she writes, “Maybe God will meet you in special ways!”
I read this line through a couple times. I want God to meet me. I want Him to teach me, to speak to me. Maybe He will.
* * *
I find a notebook and pen waiting for me on the table. They are a gift from my sister, a tool I will use for the next six weeks as an outlet into the world. An inspirational quote is written on the inside cover:
If Ariel can do it, so can you!
It is complete with a sticker of The Little Mermaid. I laugh, and the journey begins.
* * *
During the first week of silence my world turns upside down. Previously menial tasks are now puzzles to solve and obstacles to overcome, but adaptation is surprisingly invigorating. I order tea from Starbucks. I deposit a check at the bank. I teach music lessons. I check out a book from the library.
All without making a sound.
Sometimes silence is a convenience. I avoid giving out my phone number at a retail store. I ignore the creepy man in the parking lot. I disregard the ring of the telephone. I never, ever put my foot in my mouth.
My dad jokes with me, “Anna, just think about how much you’re not sinning now that you can’t talk!”
I smile and think, “Believe me, you have no idea!”
No one else knows the bounty of insensitive, unproductive, and selfish comments caught by the net of silence. My flame of a tongue has been put out, but will the untamable be tamed only by disuse? I pray the Lord trains my mind as well as my mouth.
As the weeks go on my situation seems less of a game and more of a frustration. There are things I want to say and songs I wish to sing and jokes I long to laugh at. But I must wait. I wait to ask a question. I wait to answer a question. I wait to tell a funny story. I wait to sing a song I have written. I wait to talk to a friend.
I read these words,
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14, NASB)
I believe, thus despair is not an option. This is not a restriction, but a relief.
* * *
It has been five weeks. The adaptation phase is over and I am settled into normalcy. Surely it wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the plagues I am left to suffer alone. Physical pain clings determinedly, while sleep is a flippant friend and weariness a constant companion. I fight a battle, and my weapon of choice sits on my desk, staring at me through my mother’s cursive handwriting:
We are afflicted… but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11, NASB)
Sometimes I read all the things I am first, then emphasize the things I’m not:
I am afflicted, I am perplexed, I am persecuted, I am struck down… but I am NOT crushed, NOT despairing, NOT forsaken, NOT destroyed!
The sword always wins.
* * *
The bubble has been popped. My mother and I sit in the parking lot, crying tears of joy. Minutes before, a miniature camera revealed the best news we could have hoped for. I do not have cancer. I do not need surgery. It is okay to talk. There are still things to figure out, problems to solve, pain to deal with, but God has been gracious this morning and for that we are thankful.
For me, it is a day of celebration, and I am delighted to find everyone I know is celebrating as well. My family, co-workers, friends, even the guy at the bank is excited to hear my soft, yet audible, voice.
“Welcome back!” they say, “We’ve missed you!”
And though I’ve missed them, too, they don’t realize how present they’ve been these past weeks. I think back on the prayers, the letters, the emails, the notes, the kind words, the hugs. I was never alone, rather I was comforted, encouraged, and sustained by dozens of people interceding on my behalf.
* * *
The Lord did indeed meet, teach, and speak to me, and through these encounters slowly revealed the significance of the church sign my mother spotted, the key behind The Strength of Silence. I think it sums up best in these verses a friend so providentially posted on her facebook during my final week on vocal rest:
…I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, MY GRACE IS ENOUGH, IT’S ALL YOU NEED. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, The Message)
As usual, the answer is backward, upside down, nonsense by the world’s standards. The strength of silence, or any weakness for that matter, is just that: it is silent, weak, humble, passive, without a defense, without an opinion, without a question, without an answer, in need of assistance, in need of a Savior. It is only in my silence that God is able to speak, save, and do His work in me. It is only in our weaknesses, our setbacks, our trials that He is able to expose His marvelous grace and the joy that comes from submission to the Father.
* * *
I sit in my bedroom the following Sunday night. My thoughts and feelings are uncertain. It has been wonderful to laugh with family and talk to friends, yet there is still pain to endure, decisions to make, and trials to face. I take my Bible and turn to the familiar 2 Corinthians verses, but this time read further.
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NASB)
I am brought full circle, and the journey continues.