There are ways that we silence those who are different from us. We’ve all done it at least once. I know I have. Now, with a little more experience under my belt, and a whole lot less attachment to things that might make me defensive, I can see my own temptations to shut others down, and I can work on it with intention.
I’m not going to try to make a comprehensive list of all the ways in which we diminish the viewpoints and experiences of others, but I’m sure you could sit with your own personal life history and come up with some great stuff. This past year has taught me a lot, and more recently, as I’ve gone through a bit of a dark night of the soul, I’m starting to be able to draw distinctions between being kind, gracious, and willing to suffer for another, and being a pushover who stays silent even when their heart wants to speak because they’re afraid of what people might think or feel.
Even with that distinction made, there is no line in the sand to draw. There is no clear demarcation of where my passion ends and your hurting begins. There is no magic formula for when to speak and when not to speak. The best I can do is try to be honest with myself about how and why I am speaking. Am I speaking out of my own pain and suffering? Am I speaking out of love for another? Am I speaking just to be heard? Am I speaking over someone? Under someone? Because I’m bored? Because I’m angry? Am I willing to accept the consequences of what I say?
When I know where my voice is coming from, I’ll know better how to navigate the responses to that voice in conversation with others. Actually, it’s something we probably intuit more than we “know”. The best I can do in any dialogue is be true to what I’m understanding of myself in that moment and be open to the other person’s perspective and feelings.
I’m not always going to do it perfectly, but the fear of getting it wrong should not take my voice away. Everyone has a story to tell. And every story has value. This is one of the many things I love about Jesus. He had this way of being that allowed him to really see people. He knew when someone was speaking from their heart or their ego, and he responded accordingly, showing up with his authentic self every time. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be as good as Jesus at showing up like that, but I sure do want to get better at it.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in a beautiful short story, “The Emperor’s Three Questions”:
Remember that there is only one important time and it is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.
The quality of my writing has gone downhill these last few months, and I know it. Much of that is because I had some experiences that made me feel like I needed to be silent in order to be Christ-like. I took an initial feeling of love which encouraged me to give space to others, and let that transform into believing that I shouldn’t speak at all, ever. But Jesus wasn’t always silent. He was present.
There are things about our world that need to be talked about, and how and why we talk about them matters. I value the time I’ve had to reflect, meditate, and seek the face of God. I don’t regret not writing for a while. Silence can be helpful for checking back in with ourselves, and grounding us to that which is bigger than ourselves. But then, it’s time to show up, say what’s in our hearts, and listen to the hearts of others.
Every story matters. My story. Your story. The stories that have yet to be written. In their telling, we find each other. And when we hold them without judgement, we heal each other.