30 hours. Not talking. How in the world am I going to do this? These were some of my initial thoughts as Arthur explained what exactly were we going to do. I decided that I was going to start earlier, just to practice and get in the mood so I would be totally ready by 12 noon. I expected to learn things such as self-discipline and self-control, but I never thought God would unearth things about myself and force me to face them. He opened my eyes to the pain people with disability experience daily, and like it says so comfortingly in Psalm 46, reminded me that He’s not only my “refuge” in times of sadness but also my “strength” to help those who need Him.
As I stepped out of the car and placed my feet onto my school grounds, I already felt the struggle. I glanced and saw my girlfriend Lauren, crossing the street and wanted desperately to chat. However my voice caught in my throat, and I found myself staring with forlorn eyes as she walked into school, ignorant of my presence. More of these instances like this occurred throughout my school day. Friends who gave me enthusiastic greetings were disappointed as I responded with a silent waves. At one time, my friend jokingly bounded down the hall with my notebook, left me there with no method of communication but my hands and face. In that time period three people came up to me to talk, but I could do nothing. One of those people I had tried to establish a friendship with too, but again, I was helpless. All I could muster was a smile and some exaggerated gestures. Oh, how much I wanted to speak! I wanted to ask how she was doing, what she enjoyed in her free time, what class she was going to next. I had to swallow my words constantly throughout the day, and overall it was frustrating.
But as I watched Joni’s videos about people with autism, I realized something. These autistic children have emotions and thoughts just like we do, however, they can’t express it in a way that we understand. I was frustrated by not being able to correctly express myself for 30 hours, imagine how frustrating it must be for them all their lives! Even the little things such as not being able to say “thank you” or “sorry” was a real bugger for me! I wanted to express my gratitude and love for them, but I couldn’t. A brother mentioned it during our sharing. He said “I would rather not be represented at all than misrepresented”. How true that is! Getting labeled is an unpleasant experience for everyone, but imagine being able to do nothing about it.
In my classes, I really had to learn to put on the humility that Christ did. I have always been a rather proud person, and to get made fun of with no method of defense, well that was a rude awakening for me. “How was your day today, oh wait, you can’t talk”. My prayer was, “Lord, help me be patient and learn to clothe myself in humility”. After first seeking refuge in God and then calling upon His strength, I found it much easier to put on a smile and receive the chastisements. Because my mouth was zipped, I was also forced to listen to people. Did I mention I wasn’t a good listener either? Sometimes I feel like I have the attention span of a goldfish! But as I gave people my full attention, I realized how much insight they have. During our small-group silent “discussion”, I was surprised as some usually quieter members of our group shared their thoughts on their notepads.They had a lot to say! Guilt washed over me as I realized how little time I took in just being quiet and listening to them.
I also realized how much I complain. As an only child, sometimes I feel like its only natural for me to do. It comes out of my mouth almost without me thinking. But when I wrote it down on paper, I thought “what good does this do to anybody?”. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. How does my complaining pass as wholesome or benefit those who listen? It just doesn’t. As I broke my silence I said to my counselor Kathy “Kathy, I have so much math homework!”. After 30 hours of only complaining once, this felt strange. As I think about it, complaining is a waste of time and energy. Words have much authority, so I should definitely cut out the complaining and start using it to bring glory to God!
Lastly, God hushed my soul. We know all too well how noisy the world can be. It seems like just about everything demands your attention. From the “beeps!” to the “now on sale!” to the “due Thursday!”, we are bombarded with daily notifications. How on earth can we “be still and know that” He “is God” when so many things demand our attention? During retreats, I genuinely enjoy getting away from my life for a while. After all, it’s a retreat. But little did I know that the noise that I experience could come from myself. I often find myself blaming my demanding life for spiritual dryness, but when I shook off all of those things… I still was dry. And then God placed it in front of me. That restless shaking comes from myself. I was the one starting those pointless conversations and turning up the noise. As I spent my time in silence, I didn’t have to worry about what to say or do. So when I did my devotional that morning, I could absorb a lot more out of Scripture and really appreciate the deep meanings of God’s Word. I’ll never forget the peace that I felt, being still and knowing that He is God.
During our small group silent discussion, we also silently discussed through the passing of notepads how we could reach out to those affected by disability. My heart ached as I saw the pain the families go through, and how people (even in the church!) don’t see how they are ALL made in God’s image. We also discussed how God uses their disabilities to show us just how disabled we are. God made them with disabilities for a reason, and it’s always for good purposes. I was scared to reach out to people with disability, and honestly sometimes I still am, but if I really just take the time to pipe down and connect with God, I know that His strength will give me the courage to love those made in His image.