Something about the silent treatment

Something about the silent treatment

My wife, Fiona, hasn’t spoken to me in almost three weeks. At all.

Her silence has been a means of treating vocal nodules that have been developing on her vocal cords. Perhaps it’s a consequence of having greater singing ability than talking technique but, whatever the antecedent, the treatment plan we’ve been working with over the last three weeks has been complete silence.

The ultimate silent turkey.

It’s more than worth a shot. Singing brings Fi a whole lot of joy as it does for many who hear her, or are lead in worship by her in different contexts. For her, it’s one of the primary ways in which she is able to enjoy and draw near to God – sometimes in group settings, often on her own, with a guitar on the sofa.

The woman also likes talking quite a bit so while the potential restoration that may be brought about by the treatment is more than worth it, it hasn’t been without some fun times along the way.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve moved through a small mountain of wire-bound notepads. They’re dotted around the house. We’ve developed a rudimentary code language – a simplified hybrid of charades, pictograms, and sign language. Along with this, there has been obedience incentives for the girls that were established before the quiet winter began. Meetings, logistics and daily conversations have all been roads to navigate together. Predicting what she might be meaning and gauging her frustration by the size of her handwriting and when it moved to capital letters has also been fun.

We figured before we kicked off the silent treatment that we’d learn a few things before we were done. We weren’t wrong.

It turns out that when someone close to you can’t talk, your first assumption is that you can’t either. I found myself responding to Fi without words as well. Gesticulating, sub vocalising, and generally using as few words as possible. Mainly, I’d catch myself doing this and then need to remember that it was her getting the silent treatment, not me. I could still talk.

The whole house has been pretty quiet for a few weeks now. The level of noise from our two daughters and the number of arguments between them has plummetted. Or at least been muted significantly. Mostly, peace has reigned. The girls are perceptive. They are aware of the basic range of requests and requirements that might be on the cards and they became quickly perceptive as to what these might be given the situation.

(A couple of hand claps from downstairs)
Clover: “Do you want us to come down for dinner?”
(Another hand clap)
Clover: “Ok, Mummy, we’re coming down now.”


(A couple of hand claps from downstairs)
Clover: “Do you want us to come down for dinner?”
(Three more hand claps)
Clover: “Oh, you don’t? You want us to get into the shower??”
(Three more hand claps)
Clover (voice coming closer to the stairs, more frustrated now): “I don’t know what it is you want, Mummy. Tell me.”

The girls didn’t need hours of briefing for those responses. They knew something was up and changed the way they communicated accordingly. Most of us are more perceptive than we realise when it comes to communication.

We realised again that when all of our communication is at one volume or over one medium, there’s no nuance. While this thought may be lost on purveyors of the heavy metal genre, most people get this. Colour and shade, tension and release, these contrasts not only bring meaning and clarity, they also move the listener. I found myself working more closely alongside Fi in the last few weeks because it was in being close to her that I could gain the greatest understanding of what she wanted or wanted to communicate. That gets a bit annoying after while, but it makes more sense of what James means when he writes ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’. There’s a whole lot about the posture of our listening and the anticipation of hearing that puts us in the place of receiving and deriving meaning from the Communicator.

I remember a mate of mine saying that his daughter was prone to throwing tantrums at night. His strategy was to whisper to her. Of course, she couldn’t hear him while she was screaming, but an awareness that someone (her Daddy) was trying to comfort her caused her to tune in to Daddy’s frequency of communication. It necessitated dialling down the histrionics to hear the gentle, calming whisper. It quietened her. There’s few of us who couldn’t benefit from this approach from time to time.

When we run to God with our shouts, complaints, and deprecations, He always listens, but He doesn’t always respond at the same deafening volume as the one we’re using. He wants us to hear. He is patient with us and wants to bring peace and assurance. Oftentimes, God wants us to know that amidst the turmoil and the chaos, He is God. His command, as with the wind and the waves: “Be still and know that I am God”. 

While we’re talking, I think that Fi has had to learn how to deal with frustration a little more as well. You can’t just yell out in displeasure. You have to deal with it and that demands striving for peace or a more gentle way of communicating truth without losing persepective and letting go of the orginal goal.

Fi is now emerging out the other side. Quite words are being spoken. No yelling (so far), no harsh words.

There’s a pivotal moment in Ecclesiastes once Solomon is done with his many-worded pronouncements of meaninglessness. He comes to a place of right thinking and quiet acceptance.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

Solomon is not saying ‘don’t talk to God’ or even ‘don’t talk to Him very much’. He’s heading somewhere far deeper. Solomon is saying that in our frustration, in our exasperation and bluster, it does us well to quieten down and gain a sober perspective of the greatness and sovereignty of the God of all creation in the midst of our vapour-like myopia. He is more than capable of hearing our shouts of exclamation, but a realisation of his eternal perspective in the midst of our circumstance is a prompt to listen not talk – to hear the one who calms the raging sea and hear the song that He continues to sing over us.


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