I began reading a book today called, The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor. The author, Amy Hollingsworth, has pointed out that one of the key aspects of the television show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, is Fred Rogers‘ quiet personality. He takes his time. He is quiet. He is almost down-right slow about getting something done. And those were qualities that critics and comics alike picked up on to ridicule.
Yet, children who regularly watched Mr. Rogers on television demonstrated more willingness to wait when receiving materials or rewards. They also demonstrated a more restrained patience than children who were watching fast-paced children’s programs (such as Sesame Street). Obviously, Mr. Rogers was doing something right by modeling a calmer persona, comfortable with periods of silence.
It seems we spend most of our lives in a hurry. As children we are impatient by nature, full of energy and always ready to pounce on some new activity. As teenagers, we are in a hurry to live life to the fullest without regard for past or future. As young adults, we are in a hurry to carve out our niche in life so that we will have a future. As middle-aged adults, we are in a hurry to make the most of our careers and to get ready for the day when we want to retire. And when we finally reach our retirement, we are in a hurry to enjoy it before we are too old to do the things we want to do.
Then, one day, we wake up and realize we have gotten old. We live a quiet life, now. We move slow. We wish others would slow down a bit. We wish others would speak up and turn off all that other noise. If we aren’t careful, we will get all the way to the end without having taken the time to really enjoy the moment.
As a child, Mr. Rogers taught me this. Today, Amy Hollingsworth has reminded me of that lesson.
And then, after I laid the book down after lunch and went out to visit shut-ins in my community, I was once again reminded how precious silence can be.
When I first began full-time ministry, I was terrified of pastoral care visits. All I could see were my limitations: I’m a quiet person, I’m not good at instigating conversations, I’m not good at being the one to carry a conversation… Because of that fear, I was terrible at pastoral care visitations. There was even a period of time that I had come to dread them. I would stand on the porch of some elderly person’s porch, jaw clenched, belly full of butterflies, and palms sweaty–and I would actually pray that they wouldn’t answer!
For quite awhile I flailed and failed at visitations… and then I suddenly realized that the very qualities I had once feared would make me a terrible visiting pastor were actually my strengths.
The elderly shut-ins in our neighborhoods do not get as many visitors as they would like. Most are very lonely. But they also don’t move as fast as they used to. They don’t get around like the used to. Their minds are a little rusty, even the ones who have stayed sharp in their old age. Their ears don’t function all that well and they need a moment to let the sounds you have just barked at them bounce around in their mind until they can figure out what you have said. Silence does not frighten the elderly.
In fact, they appreciate it. It gives them that blessed moment to figure out what has been said, what they want to say in return, and to remember what they were planning to say all along.
Sitting in living rooms and nursing home rooms and hospital rooms has taught me over and over again that a moment of silence allows something bigger than any one of us to grow. It allows Jesus Christ to take form in that room, to join with us in the conversation, to whisper in our ears at that lulling moment in the conversation when there just aren’t any words to take up space.
It reminds me of St. Francis who once said that we should “preach the gospel every chance we get, using words when we must.”
Sometimes the best way to live out loud for Christ is to just to keep our silence so that Jesus can fill in the gaps we leave behind.