There’s a phenomenon that occurs anytime someone finds themself in a foreign land where they do not know or speak the language. Even though it is an uncomfortable stage of acculturation, it’s actually a vital part of becoming a member of a new culture or Way of life.
It’s called “the silent period.”
During this time, a person is inundated with so many unrecognizable sounds and experiences from an unrecognizable culture, that they can’t even make an attempt to articulate what they are experiencing, so they walk around mostly silent. Anytime they do try to speak, they aren’t quite able to convey exactly what they were meaning to, so they retreat back into observing the world around them until the words that they are looking for are within their grasp.
To the outside world, when someone is in their “silent period,” it often looks like they aren’t finding any meaning in their surroundings, but, ironically, they are actually deeply engaged with all that is going on while their eyes, ears, mouth and brain try to put everything together.
Oftentimes when people attempt to rush out of this silent period, they will often misuse words and confuse concepts, but even those mistakes are a crucial part of learning a new language.
People can stay in this silent period for a long time; it is just how humans are. We are able to take in and understand our experiences long before we are able to speak about them meaningfully.
Irregardless of how long we are there, it is necessary to go through this silent period so we can arrive at a stage which is simply referred to as “the home stage:” a stage where the person feels completely settled into a new way of life.
But when the words finally do come, when we are able to articulate what we were taking in for all those months and years, the words often come pouring out like water from a spring that had been lying in anticipation for someone to dig deep enough to find it.
This is how I would describe my experience of being taken to the foreign lands of grief.
I entered into a “silent period” of my own… wandering alone in the deserts for years, acutely aware that things were happening around me, but unable to put them into words. And though I knew deep down that Someone was leading me through this desert, I did not know who or what was walking with me, step by step, to higher and more solid ground.
It’s now when I look back that I can see very clearly where I was and Who I was with: I was the prodigal child wrapped in the arms of her loving Father who was whispering to her all the words she needed to hear but, as of yet, could not understand. I didn’t quite know how to put into words that I was experiencing “being found” because I had never fully been aware that I was ever lost.
So I stayed in that embrace like a suffering patient being held by a doctor who kept whispering over and over in a language she didn’t understand: “you will be made well again. I am making you well.”
The silent stage is different for all people, but we all experience it when we are in a strange and unfamiliar place. And when it comes to the places grief takes us, where all of the signs are indiscernible, and the roads all seem circular, I can understand why I stayed spiritually mute for years while my Father continued to whisper as I suffered in my silence.
But then the words started to come. At first, it was just words and phrases which I would hesitantly and self consciously speak out of my silence…
He is for me.
I am his.
The simplest phrases with deep, profound meanings that I could only understand in the silence of my heart. These words, simple as they may be, were enough to illuminate the place where all my wayward missteps and the agony of grief had gotten me: to the foot of The Cross.
And it was only when realizing where I was that the words God had been speaking to me while in His embrace were given to me, and I found myself finally being able to say what I could not before:
That I am the daughter of the Most High King.
That my Father has put to death all that was meant to torment me.
And that death itself, and the grief it leaves in its wake, has been crushed under the weight of The Cross on which my God hangs.
That I will be well.
That all things shall be well.
I found myself saying these words, and I still find myself saying these words as I gaze up at The Cross with a full recognition of what those words mean and why it took me so long to be able to say them and how those words cast a light on the shadowlands of grief.
It took me years of being in my “silent period” to finally get to a place I never knew I was missing but to which I was always being called…
To finally get me home.