Be Quiet

My favorite place to argue used to be the bathroom. As a teenager filled with angst and a strong sense of the injustice wrought upon me by the world, I found the best place to decompress was under a steamy hot showerhead, verbally spewing all of the things I wished I could say out loud.

I staged many a court case, conducted a host of rational dialogues, and confessed much heartfelt love from the safety of a locked bathroom. Under a showerhead, I was the Queen of Articulation—much more confident and fiery than ever betrayed in real life. I won many admirers and faced a host of foes. And all of them—cute boys, strict teachers, parents, mean older girls, a volleyball coach who was the bane of my existence—unilaterally acknowledged my brilliance. All while I passionately lathered my hair.

Today, I argue less in the shower, and I tend to say precisely what I mean. Not always, but often. And while I love that I no longer hide a “less appropriate and contained” part of myself away, I’ve also come to realize that my words can be incendiary, and not every moment needs me to set it on fire.

Filling a space with words does not mean I am filling a space with sense or goodness or love.

Because a lot of times, words are about control—exerting authority over a situation. Just like Adam naming a bunch of animals.

All those years ago in the shower, I was naming my feelings, my thoughts, my evidence so I could justify myself. Words gave me a sense of identity in the midst of situations that felt bigger than me.

In fact, that is what words still do today.

Recently, I started a happiness project, answering a different question every week to encourage mindfulness. This week, the prompt was: “What are the things that take you out of your head?”

It should be noted that everything that then came to mind was some form of illegal substance—“you know, I bet that would do it.”

I don’t get out of my head.

I don’t turn off all of the words.

They are my protection against the world, the big questions, the lonely wilderness.

But… what if God is in the wilderness?

In her sermon series, When God is Silent, Barbra Brown Taylor notes, “What we crave in this wilderness are fresh words from the mouth of God—not yesterday’s manna, nor tomorrow’s, but just enough for today. Whatever happened to the talkative God of the Bible?”

Brown Taylor believes God chooses to engage our verbally saturated world by waiting in the silence, the lonely spaces. Words have grown cheap, and so God waits until we enter spaces where we are hungry to hear him:

“The problem,” says Brown Taylor, “is that nourishing words are so hard to find—words with no razor blades in them, words with no chemical additives.”

Sometimes, we have to sit in the quiet for a long while before we are ready for those words.

What if we believed that truth was more about listening and less about shouting? More about sitting down instead of standing up? More about wondering instead of naming?

These days, I’m talking less and listening more, defining myself not by what I say but by what moves me in the words of others.

It’s a centering practice, and one I invite you to share with me.

Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 27 year old seminary student, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.