Too often conversations begin and end with: “I’m tired”. I might vary it up, say I’m busy, or, if I’m feeling particularly honest, inject the occasional: “Actually I’m exhausted”.
Sometimes it’s true; I’ve been out late and up early, squeezing what I need to do into borderline unavailable hours. And I fall without grace onto the sofa to watch a trashy film when I might scrape an evening free.
At other times it’s a cover for being deeply unhappy, feeling stressed and frustrated, annoyed at the world for going the way it’s going, annoyed at people for being who they are and who I’m not. I might not be physically weary but I am tired of it all.
But often it is nothing more than a conversation-stopper. It is a lazy get-out. It is words used to prevent others being spoken. I justify my recalcitrance and excuse the monotony of my responses by suggesting I’d love to say more, but it’ll take more than a sentence so I stick to the shorthand and never get round to the rest.
Maybe single sentence answers are the killer of relationships.
Have we slipped into a soundbite friendship culture when it’s not worth saying if it can’t be said in a single breath? Have we forgotten the art of listening, of speaking, of sharing, of waiting? Sucked into the tyranny of after-church mingling when we ostensibly catch up with friends using words that are no more than excuses.
There are friends with whom I can fast forward past the prelude and small talk and get to the meat of the conversation quickly. But sometimes time is needed, sometimes the prelude is important, sometimes a conversation that’s more than a few sentences long is vital. Emotions linger in a translucent space that needs work to bring to definition and understanding.
Answering ‘I’m tired’ should not be a cue to find a better 10-word answer to convey how you feel, but a prompt to take the time when many more words can be spoken. And also much more said that is not conveyed with words.
Silence is also a language of love.
The rush to use words to answer questions highlights our discomfort.
Stillness comes when we know words have been spoken and will be spoken, but perhaps, do not need to be spoken right now.
On the night before Jesus’s death, after he had shared the bread and the wine, and after the betrayal had begun but not been completed, Jesus did not want conversation. He said to his disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” And they fell asleep.
And Jesus prayed with his face to the earth: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And there was no answer.
There was sorrow in the garden that night. There was a cry for help that went unanswered. There was sleep when there should have been watching and silence where we would put words.
Catherine of Siena is recorded as saying: “Nails did not hold Jesus to the cross, his love for you did.”
On that Saturday, Jesus became the true atheist, he was the one without God. Silence filled with despair, the temple curtain torn, the earth shaken, the body buried. Hope was replaced with silence. The messiah had failed.
The condemnation of crowds who strung him to a tree rung out across the hills. The cries to free Barabbas, the noisy chatter of a mob who did not know.
And the noise that brought death replaced with a silence which against all expectation, ushered in life.
The peace that passes understanding comes because of that silence. It is because of the Father’s momentary absence from the life of the Son that we know the silence will not tarry for too long. We know that silence is not a sign of despair but a marker that hope is on its way.