Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent
King Solomon said it best. Keeping silent however doesn’t only mean limiting your speech or refraining yourself from talking. In my opinion I think there are three different instances where we keep silent.
The somewhat easy one
The most obvious form of keeping silent is not talking for the sole purpose of not wanting your thoughts or ideas to be criticized or judged. People will have many different reasons for not talking. One individual might be shy and feel embarrassed when he or she says something. This individual refrains from speech for fear that others will judge him or her by what they say. This type of silence is not beneficial and in this case you should not keep silent. It means that your silence is only based upon the fear that what you say will be criticized and ridiculed by others. This is especially crucial in modern times.
For example. Two people are having a conversation about homosexuality, both of which are in agreement that it is permissible. They turn to you and ask you what are your thoughts about it. You oppose the idea. Rather than saying you disagree with them, you shrug off the question and seemingly present yourself as if you have no opinion on the matter for fear that your answer may be criticized or judged. This can pertain to anything beyond the example I gave. The main point I am trying to illustrate is that you were silent for fear that your ideas or thoughts would be attacked, criticized, and judged by others. If St. Paul were to feel this way then we would have none of his letters. Rather he said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one who believes”. St. Paul didn’t care what people were going to say about him. He had a mission. His mission was to deliver God’s message and he was going to do that despite what anyone said about him.
I’m not gonna lie though.. I am somewhat like this. Sometimes I will hold back perfectly sound thoughts or ideas for fear that someone might criticize or judge whatever I say. I feel that the main method to overcome this is to just say what you want to say. Now I’m not saying that you just blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. Review what you want to say, and then say it. This transformation of personality is not going to happen overnight. It takes time. The main thing you must realize is that unfortunately people are going to judge you anyways so keeping silent will not change anything. Rather you should just be yourself.
The kinda difficult one
Another reason why someone may refrain from talking is because they sometimes cannot control what they say so they limit their speech or it is better for them to stay silent. I will give two scenarios.
Many times we just blurt things out about people without really thinking them over. This can lead to conflict and gossip. Sometimes we do it intentionally, other times, unintentionally.
For example. Someone you know hasn’t been coming to church lately for whatever reason. Another comes up to and asks
“Hey, I haven’t seen so and so for awhile. What’s up?”
“Yeah.. I know. I heard tha-Stop right there! Keep Silent!
This simple question that someone asked you easily turns into a gossip scenario in which you both forget about the person and are talking about the reason why he or she hasn’t been coming. What is more important? To talk about why the individual hasn’t been coming or to realize that the person hasn’t been coming and then to ask about them? We sometimes get caught up in the minutia of it all. Just remember that any conversation, even one with good intentions like the example above, can be turned around into a gossip scenario. In a situation like this it is best to Keep Silent. You can simply tell the person that they should ask about them.
The second scenario is quite a different one. Here I will talk about keeping quite when accused, insulted, or cursed at. This is so hard to do. We naturally have the tendency to defend ourselves. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves. What I am saying is, it is best sometimes to keep silent, despite the fact that we may be right, be doing nothing wrong, or are wrongly accused of something.
Wait a minute?! Did you just say we should keep quite even when we are doing nothing wrong and are wrongly accused of something?
Yeah.. I did. But this isn’t an idea that I came up with. Just look at the best example. Christ.
Let’s look at what happened.
Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate.
All this and Christ had kept silent
Pilate then asks Him “Are You the King of the Jews?”
Christ answers him and says “It is as you say”
Even in the way Christ answers Pilate, He is limiting His own speech. He doesn’t say “Yes! I am the King of the Jews.” Rather, “It is as you say” His response was calm. It wasn’t aggressive. It wasn’t hastily said.
This isn’t even the best part in my opinion.
After Christ answers Pilate, the chief priests start accusing Him of many things.
And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!” But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled.
So basically.. the chief priests were saying all these accusations against Christ with Pilate right there. Yet Christ didn’t utter a word. In fact we see that Pilate “marveled” at this. Any person would scream and shout and be like “No! That never happened” However Christ kept silent. He kept silent while people were accusing Him. Another recent example of this are the 21 Martyrs of Libya. They didn’t shout. They didn’t try and defend themselves with their words. The only words that came out of their mouths were the words that mattered “My Lord Jesus”. Pope Shenouda has a book titled “Experiences in Life” in which he talks about the benefits of keeping silent. Here are one of the quotes from the book.
“Sometimes silence is more effective than words”
We clearly see this in both of the examples above.
(“Experience in Life” by H.H. Pope Shenouda III is a great read. Here is the PDF if you want to read it)
The most difficult one
The third type is spiritual silence. This third type is not just silence of the tongue but of the mind and spirit. This is what lets us listen to God and not be too involved in ourselves. How can I listen to God if my mind is full of thoughts and my tongue is busy moving? In the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory before the Institution Narrative, St. Gregory says “And no manner of speech can measure the depth of Your love toward mankind.”
No matter what we say we can never really equate God’s love for us with words. And I personally think he doesn’t want us to. I think He wants us to truly listen to Him and talk to Him by having a relationship with Him. When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, He specifically told them “Do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they will be heard for their many words” In our prayers, I don’t think God wants us to keep on talking and repeating things. “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” Our minds get so distracted when it comes time for prayer.
Sometimes we can be in Divine Liturgy praying and then all of a sudden things that you never think of during the day will start to occupy your mind. These thoughts are robbing your time with God. You need to tell your mind to “Keep Silent!” This can also pertain to other things.
For example. Let’s say that someone is contemplating the monastic life. All he can think about is monasticism, the monastery, leaving his job etc… While it is good to be passionate about this, he must also learn to “Keep silent” He must first understand that this is a path chosen by God. Otherwise his thoughts will be entangled with emotions. The same with marriage as well. If a couple is together and all they can think about is each other, this may be harmful. Satan can play on these thoughts. In ways such as lust, envy, jealousy etc…
I’ll end with this. St. Gregory says that “You have placed in me the gift of speech”
That’s right. The GIFT of speech.
If this speech is a gift then we should treat it with care. Like any other materialistic thing. I don’t get a brand new car and go hit curbs or off roading with it. On the contrary. I treat it well. I park it in the shade. I wash it. I take care when driving it. So must we do with our speech. We must be cognizant of what we say and whether or not what we say glorifies God’s name.
Until next time,
Your brother in Christ
P.S. Pray for me