Learning to Shut Up

Lonely church

I finally shut up the other day. It was 20+ years in the making, and while it felt awkward, the results were remarkable.

My husband and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to athletic injuries. Having been a professional athlete, he’s of the opinion that you should push through the pain of your injury. A little (or a lot) of pain never hurt anyone. I have to admit that he’s tough, and he practices what he preaches when he, himself, will go running when he’s sick so that he can flush out the germs. I’ve never done that and never will.

Now to be fair, of course, there are certain injuries that he would advise against barreling through. Compound fractures come to mind. But basically, the man doesn’t mind pain, and thinks you shouldn’t either.

And that’s where we disagree. I think rest is necessary to healing. Rest and a heating pad and some Netflix. Yes, sometimes pain is necessary, but I err on the side of rest. We simply come at this issue from either end of the pain-rest continuum. And we each think we’re right.

John Gottman, the respected marriage researcher who has studied couples for decades, says that most disagreements in marriage never get resolved. In fact, successful couples simply learn how to manage that perpetual conflict.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I want to hear. In fact, it’s really rather depressing. I’d like to think that my husband and I can eventually come to some sort of agreement in these areas, that one of us (Bobby, of course) would eventually see the light and it would no longer be an issue.

And so, for the last 20 years, I’ve been arguing my way through these disagreements, utilizing my superior, lawyerly skills. I’ve come up with all sorts of rationales as to why I’m right. If he didn’t come around after one position, I’d try another angle. My performance has been Law and Order worthy.

Except that it’s been frustrating. And damaging. And unrighteous.

About two months ago, our daughter, Hannah, injured her ankle during a soccer match. Now she’s a serious athlete, far more committed to her sport than I was to mine, much like her dad. Not surprisingly, Bobby and I coached her through this in different ways:  Rest! Push through it!

Poor girl! She was caught in the middle, and while she wanted to push through it, the pain was too much. So I eventually took her to the doctor, and she was instructed to use crutches for 1-2 weeks.

See? I was right! Even the doctor told her to rest! Bobby should be coming around in 3…2…1…

Except that he didn’t.

After her resting period, she rejoined her team, only to experience the pain once more. And that’s when things got ugly. (And by the way, he’s given his permission for me to share this.)

Bobby lashed out at Hannah. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t pretty, and I was tempted to lash out at him in response. In fact, that is what I normally do, and I feel quite justified in doing so. After all, I have felt that it is my duty to correct him when he’s wrong.

But just the day before, I’d shared my struggle with a friend, who is married to a guy who could be Bobby’s brother, a guy who was not only an athlete but also promotes the “no pain, no gain” mentality. My friend knew my struggle well. She reminded me that when Bobby was unfair or too tough (from my perspective) that my job was to pray for him, not to be his Holy Spirit. Sounds simple, but I knew this would be nearly impossible since my habit was to convict him of what he was doing wrong.

And so, within hours of my friend’s advice, I decided to give it a try. I held my tongue. And it was hard, harder than I thought possible. Everything in me wanted to rip into him, to give him a piece of my mind, to make him feel as horrible as I knew Hannah felt.

So, as Bobby and I left a crying Hannah and drove to our son’s football game, I prayed. God, this is awful. I hate this. Convict him. Show him how wrong he is. Help me to keep quiet. God, this is hard! Help him to feel bad. Convict him. God, this is hard.

(Pretty advanced praying, huh? I just know that you’re admiring my superior, flowery prayer.)

It was hard to keep quiet. I didn’t know if he would feel bad; I didn’t know if he would apologize to her. I wondered if my silence was condoning his behavior.

An eternity passed, which in this case was about three minutes. I had said nothing that entire time—my new world record—when Bobby said this:

I really shouldn’t have treated Hannah that way. I’m going to apologize to her. And I’m really sorry that you had to hear it, too. Please forgive me.

Believe it or not, I couldn’t talk. The girl who had a million things to say went silent. I turned away from him, stared outside the car, and started sobbing. Never did I expect that God would answer that quickly or that Bobby would repent that soon. Suddenly, my words didn’t matter.

Here’s what I think happened:

Because I was silent, Bobby’s words hung in the air. His hatefulness resounded in his ears. He heard himself. He heard the garbage that he had just spewed. And because I didn’t fill his ears with my words, my silence allowed him to hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit as he heard his own words ringing.

News flash: I’m not the Holy Spirit. I’m not called to convict my husband. I’m called to love him and pray for him.

Sometimes that will involve confronting him, but this experience revealed to me that I’ve confronted far more often than I’ve prayed. The proper order is this:

PRAY > PRAY SOME MORE > “GOD, DO YOU WANT ME TO CONFRONT?”  > LISTEN > [MAYBE] CONFRONT > KEEP ON PRAYING

So let me boil this down: I am my husband’s lover and friend, not his Holy Spirit. I need to pray for him and trust that the God who loves him more than I do will do His job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Learning to Shut Up

  1. This summer my retired husband spent many sun blistering days transforming our front yard from grass to drought tolerant landscaping via the trial and error method. One Friday I came home to see a hideous “fire pit” in the middle of the yard. Normally (yes this has happened more than once!) I would blurt out “That looks awful” and my husband would respond, “You are being negative.” So I resolved not to say a word–not thru dinner, not after a movie, and not as we pulled into the driveway. But I was consumed with negative thoughts throughout the night. The next morning, out of the blue, my husband confessed, “I don’t like it either.” We went out, moved some blocks, and the issue was resolved. Hope I can remember this lesson!

  2. Hey Sarah! Love your article!! It is so true, is really hard to stay in silence so the other person can hear him or herself, especially when we think we have the truth or that we are correct. I love how you always find a way using prayer as a tool.

  3. This is quite possibly the most brilliant thing I have read! You are truly gifted in your writing and in your ability to relay a story in a way that makes sense. I’m glad you shut up so the Holy Spirit could do His job. Now I have to go shut up. Humpf!

  4. Convicting! Majorly convicting! Wow! Thank you for your transparecy. You know I’ve always been a fan…this post takes it to a whole nother level. You encourage me to be a better wife, mom, daughter, friend. Love you, girl!!

  5. Sarah, what a wonderful God moment and life lesson. I too have tried to be the Holy Spirit to Greg, which is always a total fail. Thanks for being transparent and sharing your heart. I’m so grateful for the Holy Spirit’s promoting and showing me a better way (now if I could just always hear).

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