Bread — Quiet

December 3, 2010


Readings for Friday, December 3, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 3:8-15; 1 Thess. 4:1-12; Luke 20:41-21:4; Psalms 16, 17, 22

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From Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands…” 1 Thess. 4:11

There is something in the American mindset which causes us to be conflicted when we hear the word “ambition” and “quiet” in the same phrase. After all, we know that, if we have ambition, we are to get ahead in the world. To get ahead in the world, we must go to the front of the line. To go to the front of the line, we must be assertive, aggressive, have a winning attitude, talk a good game and walk it, etcetera – you get the picture. “Quiet” on the other hand suggests passivity. So, it seems to us that a person with high ambition cannot be quiet and a person who is quiet must not have high ambition. As a result, Paul’s instruction to “make it your ambition [as Christians] to lead a quiet life” seems ridiculous, if not fundamentally undesirable or unachievable.

Interestingly, the Greek word which is translated “quiet” does not mean passive, it does not mean uncaring, it does not mean unengaged or uninvolved – it means simply to be silent from speaking – in other words, to shut up. Our ambition in life according to Paul should be, in part, just to shut up.

Imagine a world where everyone took pains to listen first and speak last and only if necessary. Imagine a world where, instead of speaking louder and louder to overcome the volume of others, we spoke more softly and carefully, in part because we the space for speech was always available and in part because we knew that people were actually listening.

Imagine a quiet place, with a distinct absence of noise and a distinct character of grace.

What would happen if, today, you just shut up, minded your own business, and worked? What would happen today if you were just quiet? Would you be any the worse for it? Would any of the people around you be any the worse for it?

Today, the airways are full of talking heads blathering about the shamefulness that people no longer meet in the middle? How can anyone approach the middle when it is filled with fools talking about it? How can anyone hear me if they never shut up? How can I hear anyone else if I don’t shut up?

Maybe Paul is onto something. Maybe our ambition should be to be quiet.

Paul ends the lesson today by speaking about the reason we should be quiet, mind our own business, and work – the reason is “so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thess. 4:12

Think about it – if someone says something outrageous and I feel compelled to respond (because I will let no stupid statement go unchallenged), who is in control? Is it me or is it the person who caused the reaction in me? Where is God’s control in this?

If I feel better about myself because I have won the verbal argument by logic, power of voice, stubbornness, or whatever, who just won? Me or the person who sent me down the rabbit trail and distracted me from my real work? Did God win?

The beauty about not being dependent upon anyone means that we have the time and energy to come closer to God in our walk, to gain in our realization that He is the only one upon whom we are truly dependent for all things.

Does this strike you as anti-social? It is not, for when we listen and respond appropriately, we improve the quality of community, not subtract from it.

Let’s try, for today only, shutting up. Then, at the end of the day, we can ask ourselves whether our life has been truly better or worse for being quiet. This question will require some deep thinking, because the gossips among us will say that their life has been worse because they had to bite their tongue, and they just need to realize that addictions are hard to break.

And if being quiet today is helpful, then maybe we can try it tomorrow, and then for a few days, and then …

I think it is time for me to be quiet.

Come Holy Spirit.

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One Response to “Bread — Quiet”

  1. BobL Says:

    I’m speechless.

    Actually this is VG. In my life, my father was like this – always quiet. Near the end of his life I asked him how he managed to be so peaceful. It was the most serious I’ve ever seen anybody when he explained his commitment to live the peaceful way that he did. When I read “ambition to be quiet” here, I understood immediately.


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