Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it out.” (Prov. 20:5 HCSB)
One of the hardest tools I learned in my graduate studies was the art of silence. For many of us, when we are in a conversation with another person, silence is so AWKWARD. Our instinct is to try to fill it quickly! To avoid silence, we ask questions. We try to relate by sharing our own experiences. Or, we might just change the whole subject in general.
In our efforts to avert the uncomfortable moment, we might miss what is most important. As pastoral counselors, part of our job is to walk right into awkward. Sometimes this involves asking questions. Other times, we are charged with sharing hard truths in love. Yet, sometimes silence is the tool needed to draw out what lies inside the heart of another.
In the counseling setting and even in our everyday relationships, there is a realm of understanding that requires silence. I’m not talking about lazy silence that checks out, tunes out, or zones out. Intentional silence is actively engaging someone with the dogged determination to understand.
At first glance, it may appear obvious. “I can’t actively listen to the other person if I am talking!” This is true. But silence can play a further role. Not only does our silence allow us to hear the other person when he or she is speaking, but our silence also helps unlock the depths inside a person. In moments of intentional silence, the deepest places of a person’s heart can be discovered.
I love to scuba dive. It absolutely blows me away to encounter the incredible creation God tucks beneath the surface of His ocean waters. To the person lying on the beach, the eyes see a stretch of unending blue water glistening in the sun. However, when you strap on your scuba gear and dive into that ocean, a world of amazing discoveries awaits! As soon as you are submerged, deafening silence greets your ears. Yet, your senses are ignited by the world around you. You see fish in a thousand different colors and shapes. Sharks, dolphins, and eels swim free. I’ll never forget holding the fuzzy head of a little octopus! And, if you’re especially fortunate, you might find yourself swimming with a whale! In the silence of the deep waters lie exquisite treasures.
A person’s heart is like those deep ocean waters full of treasures. A wise counselor with understanding will take the time to swim in those moments of silence and draw out the treasures inside. What fills up a person will determine what we find. If a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, wisdom and truth will flow out like a bubbling spring of water refreshing the listener’s ears and uplifting the heart. When a person is consumed by sin and has lost his or her way, the lies believed and the diseased roots of sin will be revealed. Once those troubling sources of pain and death are exposed, the path to healing becomes clear. A wise counselor understands the art of intentional silence and allows space for the treasures within a person’s heart to be drawn out.
Examples of intentional silence:
- You ask a question. You are certain the person understands and has heard the question. You sit patiently in silence waiting for the person to share.
Sometimes a person needs time to process the thoughts or beliefs held on the inside. Intentional silence allows time to gather thoughts and communicates value in being willing to wait.
- A person shares a thought that according to Scripture is clearly misguided and untrue. Before sharing biblical truth in love, you sit in silence, allowing him or her to reflect on what was just spoken.
Sometimes untrue beliefs are exposed if a person hears the lie spoken out loud.
- A person shares a terribly painful experience or deeply troubling emotion. Rather than jump in with immediate comfort or words of direction, you sit in a moment of silence, actively engaging in the weight of that moment.
Sometimes people need permission to cry or feel pain in front of another person. Compassionate and engaged silence creates space for vulnerability and can facilitate healing.
- Just as silence holds value in the counseling setting, it also applies to our relationship with God!
“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10a NLT)
“Pay attention, Job, and listen to me. Be quiet, and I will speak.” (Job 33:31 HCSB)
Sometimes in the silence, the Holy Spirit speaks the loudest.
For more information on the challenging task of effective data-gathering in pastoral care, see our interview with counseling pastor Andy Farmer, Why Is It Hard to Get People to Open Up?
This article, The Wisdom of Shutting Our Mouths, first appeared on ChristianCounseling.com, February 12, 2015, and is used with permission. The article has also been adapted for CareLeader.org with permission from the author.