I remember walking through a house for the last time. Having spent the prior few nights scrubbing and cleaning, getting it ready to be sold, I hadn’t taken the first moment to savor the significance of the event. It was the house to which my youngest daughter came home from the hospital. The nursery we had made, now empty. The curtains graceful in the open window. I leaned against the wall and realized a lifeless house as one of the most profoundly stirring of places. There was a silence that spoke through the years, the experiences, the pain, the joy. It was not necessarily a moment of celebration or loss, simply a time to be human.

We’ve all been in small-group moments of silence. Perhaps it was just after a prayer request or maybe immediately following a provocative or demanding question. Maybe there were questions hanging in the air to which no one in particular really wanted to attach a voice. Sometimes these moments result from simple laziness or a lack of authenticity while at other times the silence embodies a great deal of pain, disorientation, or confusion.

For a community of people to realize redemptive community, however, we must be willing to embrace the silence. To let it speak. As a group leader I have in the past hastened to fill any void that needed to be filled. For everyone’s sake I felt like the uncomfortable moment required relief—and any relief was my responsibility—instead of pausing, allowing the group to feel deeply if only for a moment. Over time, however, I have discovered that the spiritual journey is littered with these moments and each falls within God’s permissive will. God allows us to walk in these valleys for a reason. It is in these valleys that God forms us as much as—probably more than—any other time. To jump in and relieve these moments is to thwart what God wishes us to “feel” in the deep of the silence.

Jesus chose to embrace the pain and reject the shame. Consider how many times we do just the opposite … rejecting the pain while embracing the shame. Be sensitive to those moments of uncomfortable silence. Be prayerful during those moments. The objective is not to let them hang in the air indefinitely, just long enough.

“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.” —from West with the Night, Beryl Markham