My mama is a wise woman.
When she was launching into the adventure of parenting, she realized that, although she had had a very loving, structured upbringing, she actually knew nothing about what to do with children. She knew the verse, “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” but she had no idea what that meant.
Feeling unfit and unwise, she did an incredibly logical thing; she turned to the Book of Wisdom: Proverbs. In her own words, she clutched at the simple mandates laid out chapter by chapter and verse by verse. She didn’t just read them. She memorized them. Meditated on them. And repeated them. Often.
All the time.
My mama was a veritable factory of Proverbs. If a sibling poked another sibling, “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a damn, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” If we were being lazy, “Like smoke to the eyes and vinegar to the teeth, so is a sluggard to the one who sends him.” When we wouldn’t listen to advice, “In a multitude of counselors, there is safety.” Or when we began to hang out with friends we shouldn’t have, “Whoever walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.”
I will forever be grateful to my mama for the legacy of truth she bequeathed me. I remember countless Proverbs, not because I was disciplined and memorized them, but rather because they rolled so often off my mother’s tongue.
When I entered junior high, a new favorite proverb emerged…
Girls are notoriously awful in junior high. We’re rotten little sinners with snide glances, chipped nail polish, and a desperate longing to fit in. All these longings culminated in the grand ritual of all preteen girls: the sleepover. (Seconded only by “the mall hang out.”)
I was gawky, tall, pudgy, and homeschooled. I didn’t fit in. But when I got an invite to a slumber party, my world seemed to glow with possibility. Looking back, I can count on one hand the number of sleepovers I went to. Some of that was my unpopularity, but a lot of it was my mama. While never making them “off limits,” she did approach these times with caution, and one of her favorite Proverbs came out, “When words are many, sin is not absent, by he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 10:19
Girls get together and we like to talk. And giggle. And then talk some more. While my brothers were in danger of burning something down or blowing something up at their sleepovers, I was in danger of sinning with my tongue.
Over the years, that proverb has stood by me. I like to talk. A lot. But I’m reminded that the more I open my mouth, the more potential I have for sin. I wish I payed attention to this truth as often as I should have…
But when sick this past spring and summer, a new aspect of this proverb came to light:
Suffering makes us raw, tender, and fragile.
My soul was weak and frail, clutching feebly to hope; into this storm a brave band of friends walked, and the most powerful of all those friendships were the handful of people who were just there. They stood in silence. They served in the quiet. They listened to me. Or they sat quietly as I had nothing to say. And it was balm and peace to my soul. They held their tongues. They were wise.
“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.
I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”
-Joe Bayly, The View From A Hearse
I understand the fixers, the talkers, the problem solvers. I am one of them.
But in the midst of the storm, silence is often the only true balm. It guards the speaker from sin and the listener from reactive sin (and pain!). Sometimes, we must imitate Job’s friends’ initial response to his suffering: sitting in silence for a long time.
Silence is often a healing, sin-free place to sit.
And the wise man sits there.