Even in the silence, God speaks

“Maybe God’s not really being silent. Maybe we’re just being too loud to hear Him.”

To say my relationship with the Lord has had its ups and downs would be an understatement. There have been times when I felt like I could trust Him completely, and others where I wasn’t sure if He was really there for me at all. Usually those moments when I feel like I can’t trust Him are the moments when it feels like He’s being silent. Like when I’m praying for my vocation. Like when I’m in transition and everything feels really uncertain. Like when I need to know the next step. These moments of real pressure, of intense longing, of genuine need, really test the strength of our faith, and in them I often find that mine is yet still weak.

In these moments of frustration, when I feel my faith falter and I descend into the darkness of doubt and fear, it’s like I’m a toddler, throwing my arms about kicking and screaming because I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t like it. I don’t know where God is, but I feel like it’s not here. It sounds like He’s being silent, like He’s holding Himself back, keeping secrets from me and leaving me all alone. So I throw a spiritual temper tantrum until I tire myself out.

Once when I was in college, I became intensely frustrated in prayer. I was doing the right thing, reading my bible and praying Lectio Divina, but it felt like nothing was happening. I started throwing one of these spiritual temper tantrums, feeling really mad and frustrated at myself for not getting it, and feeling a little mad at God for not speaking to me in the obvious way I thought He would. In that moment, God gave me the image of a little child doing exactly what I was doing, flailing about angrily and crying because it felt all alone. But the child wasn’t alone. It was in fact being held by its father, whose hands were holding it aloft while he looked at his child’s face. But the child didn’t seem to notice he was there at all, and carried on.

What if, in these moments of supposed silence, God really is speaking? What if it’s all the kicking and screaming that’s keeping us from recognizing His presence? What if we’re so busy fussing about that we fail to feel the arms that are holding us, the gaze that is upon us?

Maybe God’s not really being silent. Maybe we’re just being too loud to hear Him.

I’ve started trying to recognize these moments more as they show up in my everyday life. They happen in little ways all the time, even about really silly things. And sometimes, they flare up into full blown tantrums, especially when I leave them unchecked. And when I find myself in this place, when I start realizing that I’m becoming really frustrated or really angry, I’m trying to handle those emotions differently. Rather than feeding them and giving into them, I’m trying to honor them and share them with the Lord. I try to tell Him how I feel and the fact that I’m frustrated about this. I slowly turn myself back to His gaze, and allow myself to feel again the arms around me.

And in the silence that comes after these moments, when I have allowed myself to calm down and recognize His presence, I discover that He is in fact speaking to me. He’s been speaking to me the whole time. Not in the way I would have preferred, with trumpet blasts and clear signals, but in gentle whispers, in the little tugging on my heart and a subtle nudging toward the next step. No, He doesn’t lay out the whole picture for me, but He does faithfully tell me what I need to do next. He is not leaving me alone in anything, but gently and quietly guides me along the way.

And even if He isn’t telling me what to do next, if there is nothing for me to do but wait, then in that silence He is faithfully giving me the strength I need to be patient. “Just a little while longer” echoes in my heart, with the promise that my waiting will not be in vain and the encouragement that something better is waiting for me. And He gives me the strength to say “Okay, Lord, I can wait a little longer.”

If you find yourself struggling with God’s silence, if you’re feeling frustrated that you’re not hearing Him or the way seems really unclear, I would encourage you to take some time in those moments to examine your heart and be honest about how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. Take these feelings to the Lord and let Him be with you in them. When you do this, I think you’ll find that you start to recognize the feel of His embrace, and you begin to remember the sound of His voice. Because He’s always speaking to us. We just need to let ourselves be still enough to hear Him.