The Space of Silence
Last year, I wrote a piece about the importance of asking questions. Check it out here!
It’s on my mind again for what happens after we ask questions. Naturally, there are answers and a hopefully a conversation builds from those answers. But what happens when those answers don’t match what we expect? Or, what happens when those answers make us uncomfortable?
I have found throughout my wife’s pregnancy and our first few weeks of parenthood that people feel an urge to “solve” our answers or try to soften them with their own wisdom. I recognize this comes from a very good place. People don’t want other people to feel in pain or uncomfortable.
While we feel so lucky to have this new member of our family, there have been many moments of pain, discomfort, and a crap ton of tears. That’s real and we’re feeling them fully! Sometimes, I just want people to listen. For us right now it’s parenthood but it really applies to any difficult transitionary period in life.
We don’t always need a perfectly fitting answer. Silence can actually be a great salve. When I feel your silence, it lets me know you’re actually seeing me in my pain. That feels more sustainable than a “solution.”
The book of Psalms has, at first glance, an odd reference to silence in Psalm 37. There, it says:
לְךָ֤ דֻֽמִיָּ֬ה תְהִלָּ֓ה-for you silence is praise.
There, God is the subject. But how could it be that silence=praise? Isn’t praise inherently vocalized?
Rebbe Nachman answers this question by arguing that when we’re talking about praising God, there are no real words that can capture God. So, if we want to praise God, we can stay within ourselves, be silent, and allow the praise to come forth from that. He pushes us לשום לפינו מחסום, to muzzle ourselves, which admittedly is a bit extreme.
Nonetheless, I believe in the wisdom of this teaching. When we voice our pain, there aren’t usually words to solve it. In silence, we create space for those with whom we are in relationship. A connection is forged. What better feeling is there when you feel burdened to know that someone else is in it with you? That is praiseworthy.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!