During my first few years of college, my father changed jobs. He went from being pastor of a local church to what was called, an “Associational Missionary.” Old-time Baptists will know what that means. For the rest of you, he was essentially a resource person for the Denomination to help churches in the state of Colorado.
He moved his office to the basement of our house. This meant bookshelves filled with interesting books, a virtual playground for a young man who had always loved to read. I distinctly remember one of the books that captured my fascination. It was a book of sermons by a German pastor, Helmut Theileke, titled, “The Silence of God.” Theileke was a pastor during the war, and the book was a collection of sermons preached to a congregation trying to survive Allied bombing.
The sermons are thoughtful, and I’ve re-read the book several times (I see it on a self as I write these words). However, I think it’s the title that made the book stick in my mind. In the five decades since I first read that book, I have heard the silence of God many times. If I’m honest, the silence of God is more common than the voice of God. In fact, even when He speaks, it’s often little more than a whisper.
I’ve heard the silence of God several times recently.
Yesterday afternoon we drove the few blocks to the nursing home where my mother lives. She’s soon to be ninety-three years old. After breaking her hip a year ago, she only gets around via a wheelchair. Other than that, her health is remarkable for a woman her age. If only her mind were as healthy, then I would not be writing about the silence of God.
It’s difficult. I feel guilty because I don’t go to see her often. Please don’t try and comfort me by telling me that my presence makes a difference for her because it doesn’t. She doesn’t know me from any of the caretakers. Today consisted of watching her slouched over in her wheelchair fast asleep and a conversation with the nurse for any kind of update.
This is not about my feelings. I could go every day if I felt it made any difference for her, but it doesn’t. She receives good care. This is nothing more than God’s silence. I’m not saying God is absent from Mama; He’s not doing anything.
I’ve grown to become comfortable with God’s silence. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. It’s reality.
Recounting the times when I’ve heard the voice of God is easy. There was the time in my bedroom when I heard His voice call me to give my life to ministry. In the lobby of my college dorm while talking with Sharon, His voice was loud and clear as He told us both we would spend our lives together.
I can also remember how He shouted out His care as people surrounded us with love during Sharon’s cancer treatments, and His words of assurance any number of times when we feared for our boys. There was also the time he used the words of a new friend to nudge me to go on a mission trip to Brazil, wheelchair and all. The list of times when God provided leadership, necessities, friends, and comfort is long. When God speaks, it’s a marvelous thing. That’s never a problem. However, it seems that He doesn’t speak often enough.
Why does my mother have to spend months, possibly turning into years, with no awareness of who or where she is? Why is my body giving out just as I’m finally learning enough about life to be productive? Why is our world so fractured by hatred at a time when we have greater ability to connect than at any time in history? Why is the church that I grew up loving stumbling around like a deer on a frozen pond? This list of questions is also long.
None of the periods of silence I’ve experienced were nearly as dark as that of Pastor Theileke. Each Sunday as his congregation gathered, one of the first things they did was learn who was missing, the ones who did not survive the bombing raids. It was even possible that their meeting place might be destroyed as well. He knew the silence of God much better than me.
But, don’t we all know a little about it? My father died seven years ago today, November 12, 2011. In many ways, I heard the voice of God through Daddy’s voice. Whenever I had a problem, I always turned to Daddy, and he either fixed it for me or told me how to do it myself. Countless times in the past seven years, I’ve caught myself picking up the phone to call him only to remember that he’s not available.
He taught me how to trust God in many different ways. One of the most memorable is when he needed to help me down the stairs. He had an artificial leg, and I walked on crutches, unable to maneuver steps. Daddy was a big strong man, and if the staircase had a handrail, he would simply grab me like a sack of potatoes with one arm, hold the rail with the other, and tote me down the stairs.
However, we had a house with a high front porch. There was no handrail, so Daddy would stand next to the porch and instruct me to fall over, and he would catch me. Trust me, it’s not easy. The first few times he had to reach up and pull me over, but I soon learned that he could be trusted.
I learned not only to trust him with stairs but with all my life. He then taught me to redirect that trust to God. As I got older, whenever I called about a problem, his advice was always the same— “just trust the Lord.” I did. I’ll be honest, I was much easier to do because I knew if God ever failed, Daddy would be there just in case.
When he died, I was left with no alternative. God was all I had. And He was proven to be more than enough. I still hear the voice of God, loud and clear sometimes. Other times, it’s a matter of hearing God speak from what I’ve learned in past experiences and reading scripture. Yet, there are still times when God is silent.
If Daddy were here, I would ask him about Mama, and I know what he would say— “Just trust the Lord.”