By Mary Grace Dostalik
This note is for the listeners. If you are an observer, a quiet contemplator, an onlooker, or a person who thinks of the perfect thought to add to a conversation three days later, I write this for you.
I have always been the person who remains silent amidst conversation. I always felt bad about this, as if I was letting people down by having nothing to say. I am primary of a melancholic temperament. Basically, this means it takes me a long time to think through things and process them. I find myself still thinking about conversations days, weeks, even months later. I am still formulating my response long after most have forgotten the entire conversation. In the moment, I did not say anything. Sometimes, even if I do think of a response in the moment, I still stay silent. I want to be able to formulate my response in the most accurate way while being respectful to those around me. I feel the need to over-analyze everything I say, and because of this, self-doubt creeps in.
I did not realize until recently how pressured I have felt to partake in conversation. It is easy to allow one’s self-worth to be caught up in the desire to impress people. I felt like I owed it to the people to be smart and funny. I thought that no one would want to be around me if I was too quiet.
Anyway, whoever remembers people who were quiet?
As a society, we tend to value those who are outspoken about their beliefs, but if you look a little closer, you’ll notice several key religious figures who were quiet.
Great saints knew the value of silence.
St. Joseph, throughout the entire Bible, never says a word. He is remembered by his actions. Mary too, seldom spoke out. Luke 2:19 says, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She kept things close to her heart and contemplated them. Saints such as Therese of Lisieux felt called to live a life of cloister and separation. St. Therese understood the value of keeping silent, saying, “It is better to leave each one in his own opinion than to enter into arguments.” While there are certainly times in life when it is necessary to speak up, Therese implores us to be prudent.
So we begin to realize that silence can be okay.
Barring rudeness of course, it’s okay to simply be silent sometimes. It’s also okay to speak up when you feel the urge. Just because others are more vocal does not mean their thoughts are inherently worth more than yours.
You do not have to earn your worth by entertaining others and taking part in conversation. God has made me the way I am for a reason. St. Catherine of Siena says: “Be who you were created to be and you will set the world on fire.” I can best serve God by embracing my gifts, not by striving to be someone I’m not. While there is nothing wrong with trying to improve my conversation skills, I will always be primarily a listener. My gifts lie more in becoming in tuned to others’ needs and observing those around me. Embrace your gifts that God has given you. Do not feel guilty for acting in accord with your own nature. To end, I would like to leave this quote by St. Teresa of Calcutta:
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”