Magazine article The Christian Century


Magazine article The Christian Century


Article excerpt

I'm a fixer, a problem-solver. For years I guided my fellow lawyers, showing them the path out of their dilemmas. If someone from my church family needed help and advice, they called me. My wife and kids believed I had all the answers. Unfortunately, so did I. I would always respond with an answer. Silence was just another word for failure to help.

Then my nine-year-old daughter began a 15-year journey through psychiatric institutions and group homes. At first I saw this as yet another problem to be solved. When she would call me to complain about this and that, or about everything, I confidently bestowed my pearls of wisdom. The only problem: this wasn't working. I kept trying, but nothing seemed to do any good. Had I met my match? Perhaps. But this was my precious, unique, fearfully and wonderfully made daughter. I would never dream of giving up.

One day she called from a facility in Texas and griped about how they were mistreating her and how everything was so unfair. I was poised to intervene with magic words of astuteness and discernment. And then--out of the blue--my tongue was seized and frozen by an unseen force (the Holy Spirit?). No words escaped my mouth. Silence? From me? When answers and fixes were called for? I just kept listening. When she was done talking, she said, with a burst of hope and uplift, "Thanks for listening to me, Dad. That really helped. I feel much better now."

That was 20 years ago. Whereas once I would have found long silent spells in conversations with my daughter awkward and intolerable, I now find them welcoming and hopeful. I know that my silence is profound and life-giving. I can now see the image of God in my own child and be reminded of who really is in charge--and who is the one who ultimately fixes everything.

Roland Wrinkle

Newhall, California

Every Tuesday evening, the rented yellow school bus picked up the students from Sherman Institute, a federal boarding school for Native American youth, and dropped them off at Calvary Presbyterian Church. Calvary was one of several churches in Riverside, California, that provided an off-campus program for Pima, Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and Ute teens.

It was a challenge to work with the students from Sherman. Some refused to participate in our planned activities; they just wanted any excuse to get off campus. Most, however, were grateful for our ministry, and we tried to be as culturally and emotionally sensitive as we could be.

Charlene was Pima. She was terribly overweight and wore a scowl. Not only did she never smile, she never spoke a word to anyone. Once off the bus, she sought out a corner where she could isolate herself from any human contact. Everything about Charlene communicated: "Stay away or else."

After two months of observing Charlene's behavior, I decided to sit down next to her. Each week for the remainder of the school year, I sat down next to Charlene and never said a word. I sat with her for about ten minutes each week, and then got up and joined the rest of the group.

As the end of the school year drew near, the young people were looking forward to returning home to their families in Arizona and Utah for the summer. I arrived one evening and heard an unfamiliar voice coming from Charlene's direction. Once she started talking, Charlene did not stop until it was time to return to the institute. I learned from her how the Pima had been a thriving people, how they grew their own crops and were proudly self-sufficient--until the river that ran through the middle of their reservation stopped flowing. I learned how their beautiful lush gardens were replaced by the weekly visit of the truck that dumped government surplus food.

When I wished Charlene a happy summer, she returned a smile, the first one I had ever seen from her. Charlene taught me the power of silence and presence. If my tongue had intruded upon the silence, I would never have heard her story. …

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