It was over breakfast when she told me. My niece reached across the restaurant table we both sat at, leaning over her pancakes and my eggs and bacon, and said, “I have something to tell you.”
At almost four-years-old, it seemed important to her. “What’s up?” I asked.
She scooted off the booth chair and came nearer. “It’s a secret,” she said. Then she leaned closer, her lips next to my ear, and whispered softly, “I love you.”
I loved her secret: a love song she’d deemed important enough to interrupt our breakfast for and whisper in my ear. It was said softly but reverberated loudly in my heart and mind for the rest of the day.
Sometimes the quietest things mean the most — the murmurs of a mother rocking her child to sleep, the way a husband and wife make eye contact across a room without saying anything, how friends can sit in comfortable silence during a long road trip.
It can feel like what I hear most loudly is God’s silence. I’ll sit and listen for His voice, fed up and frustrated when I don’t hear something in the five measly minutes I’ve set aside for Him.
But perhaps silence doesn’t always equal absence. When I sit in silence with a close friend, I don’t feel awkward. Instead their silence is a comfort to me — a reminder that even if they have no words, they have presence in my life.
I read the beginning of John 8 this morning, and before Jesus ever spoke to the woman caught in adultery, He looked down, silent. But He was still present. His silence did not equal absence or judgment. And when Elijah hid in the mountain of Horeb (1 Kings 19), He encountered the Living God — not with a miraculous sign or a mighty voice but in an almost silent whisper.
During this Easter season it can be easy to focus primarily on Good Friday, on the pain our Savior endured for us. Each year, it wrecks me. Then we eagerly fast forward to Easter Sunday: the best, most life-changing news our world could experience.
But in the middle of those two days lies Saturday — silent. It feels like crickets. I try to imagine how the disciples felt that first Easter, particularly on the Saturday when Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. I can’t fathom it: Jesus was dead. Everything His disciples and followers had been a part of for the last three years was suddenly over. I wonder if they asked themselves, quietly, terrifyingly, eyes rubbed raw with grief, “What if everything I’ve believed about God is a lie?”
Have you ever wondered the same?
It can be easy to believe there are times when God stops talking — when we can’t feel His presence, when the nights feel dark and long, when people’s opinions feel loud. Sometimes God’s silence has us questioning everything.
But God isn’t afraid of silence or the dark. Even on that first Saturday — when the friends of Jesus had probably shuttered themselves in a room, cocooning themselves in a bed, praying that everything they believed wasn’t a lie — Jesus was preparing a way through the dark.
Perhaps God’s silence is a comfort, a reminder, a presence that actually speaks volumes, telling us, “I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere.”
Perhaps God is nearer than we ever imagined. It may feel like He’s quiet but maybe it’s because He is so close — His mouth to your ear, His breath tickling your neck, never far from reach, close enough that you could reach out and touch Him.
Maybe He whispers because He is so near in proximity. He doesn’t need to yell or talk very loudly because He has always been close by. A still, small voice, murmuring love songs over breakfast. His right hand beside you, ready to catch you when you reach out. Leaning over the table, His lips next to your ear, whispering softly, “I love you.”
Emmanuel, God with us — on earth-shattering Fridays and resurrection Sundays and every silent Saturday in between — who quietly comes nearer, and nearer, and nearer still.