When God gives you the silent treatment

As the days of 1987 eroded gradually giving way to 1988, I learned one of the most valuable spiritual lessons of my life. I just didn’t know it at the time.  Christmas had come and gone, and I, a bright-eyed—and yet, self-centered four-year-old—was investing my time by playing with all the loot that I received for Christmas.

This was a period when my single working-mom sacrificed a lot, and scrimped and saved to provide some semblance of an appropriate Christmas when even having food on the table was a challenge most weeks. One of the presents I had opened on Christmas day was a generic wrestling action figure made to resemble Hulk Hogan. Again, my mom didn’t have the deep pockets at this time to afford an officially licensed product—so the knock off figure dubbed “Bulk Bogan” sufficed.

Bulk Bogan came with all of the regalia and accessories to defeat any foe. The problem with this was these accessories were difficult to attach with my stubby little fingers.

I needed mom’s help.

And so, a few days after Christmas, I began to pester my mom, who was on the phone, for help securing the accessories and she had the audacity to “shush” me! This was simply unacceptable. Louder, I emphatically yelled “Mom!” while tugging on her sleeve, and she again refused to put down the phone. Worse yet, she didn’t even seem to be talking on the phone at all.

She was silent.

Had my mom lost her mind? Did she not realize the gravity of the situation? Without his accessories, Bulk Bogan would face certain defeat at the hands of Nacho Man Sandy Ravage! There was only one thing left to do… throw the temper tantrum of the millennium. I mustered up the iratest tantrum full of inconsolable rage—and wow, was it a doozy!

Finally, my mom relented, promptly hung up the phone—which she, incidentally was still not speaking on—and put the necessary pieces on my action figure.

There! Was that so hard?” I thought. But in the immediate relief, I noticed a look of disappointment that quickly settled upon my mom’s face. Something wasn’t right. Inquisitively, and quite concerned, I asked my mom what was wrong.

She began to explain to me that Sesame Street on Ice was coming to town and the local radio station was hosting a contest to not only give tickets away, but also a private lunch with Cookie Monster who happened to be four-year-old Dustin’s hero! She explained to me that she had spent the entire evening trying to win these tickets and had finally gotten through on the air as the winner and had just been placed on hold. “I was trying to do something good for you,” my mom explained “but you weren’t able to wait.”

Moments later, while still in shock, I heard the DJ say “Annnnnnnnd we have our winner Michele! Michele? Well folks, it looks like we lost Michele. Let’s go to our next caller.” Stunned in disbelief, and ashamed by my short-sighted selfishness, I listened as some other child who was able to wait won my lunch with Cookie Monster.

While this example is immensely trivial, it does highlight the fragility of our faith when our propensity for instant gratification is confronted. We do not like to wait. Waiting is uncomfortable. Waiting makes us feel helpless and shatters any façade of control—and yet, Jesus did not arrive without a wait.

Perhaps that is precisely why.

John the Baptizer heralds the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry with the necessity to be prepared. It is only through the waiting process that we can truly appreciate the magnitude of Jesus’ birth into our messy world. This however does not make the process of waiting any more palatable though. Henri Nouwen concludes that waiting is “an awful desert.” Perhaps it is because waiting not only removes any illusion that we are in control, but it forces us to question whether or not even God is.

Picture the Hebrews of old, building bricks day after day for Pharaoh wondering if liberation would ever come—Are You even listening God? Imagine Israel’s cries of deportation to Assyria and then Babylon—Do you even care God? Feel the desperation of the heartbreak in Judah in the face of Roman oppression—Is there a God even out there?

What are we to do when God seemingly gives us the silent treatment while we wait?

We are each waiting for something this Advent—a solution, a resolution, a diagnosis, a healing, a relationship, a job, a rescue. And while it may seem that nothing is happening and God has abandoned us, nothing could be further from the truth.

See, in the naivete of my four-year-old perspective, my mom’s silence while on hold seemed like she was ignoring my needs. But silence does not equate to absence.

Silence does not equate to absence.

My own shortsightedness which could see nothing but the problem at hand inhibited me from being able to recognize that my mom was actually diligently working for my good—she hadn’t placed me on hold at all! In fact, if I had been able to embrace the wait, I would have not only gotten the thing I thought I needed so badly—but so much more (I mean, c’mon… COOKIE MONSTER!!!).

So whatever we are waiting for in this season, let us embrace the wait with hope knowing that God’s silence does not equate to absence. May we embrace the wait knowing that He is working something out for our good.


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