When the words came out of her mouth it was as if someone pressed the “off” button on my spirit. Everything slowed to a stop and my heart cracked and crumbled into a million pieces. The words that had just been spoken about me- about my very character and who I am- sucked the life out of me. In that moment I questioned everything about myself and who I was. Where there had always been confidence, now a monsoon of questioning and insecurity raged through and wiped out everything in its path. After the storm in my soul that day, all that was left was deafening silence.
We all want to feel like our life, our voice matters. It is an innate desire that we are born with- to be known and wanted and loved well. So what happens when a person or a situation causes us to question the very essence of who we are in such a dramatic way that our voice is silenced? And how do you recover from such a devastating season of repression?
In my life and ministry, I’ve had three specific times where I was so deeply shaken that I was silenced for a season. Once from a peer, once from a leader, and once from myself. They were life-altering experiences and seasons, and I want to share with you how they progressed and ultimately how I found my voice again. I believe as children of God, the enemy desires to silence us to lessen our impact for the kingdom. He wants to create such self-doubt that we aren’t confident enough to whisper a word. But we don’t have to allow these situations to silence us! And despite what we feel, we CAN recover from being shut down.
The first time I was silenced was when a conversation with a co-worker and peer, in an effort to relieve some relational strain, revealed their perception that I was a difficult person to get along with because I was an “assertive woman.” I had never before heard anyone describe me as “assertive” and I honestly didn’t even know what to do with the words I was hearing, but I knew they hurt and I let them silence me. I wrestled for over a year with the incredible insecurity that this person’s words caused in me. During this time our family moved from that ministry position to a new one, and I was determined to NOT be this undesirable, assertive, bossy woman that pushed people away. So I allowed my gifts, talents and voice to be stifled.
The second time was a few years later when a leader asked me to step out of serving in several different roles. There were no issues that I was made aware of, so it all felt very personal. Once again, I found myself questioning my gifts, my abilities, my personality and my calling. I withdrew and found myself in a very isolated place of hurt and frustration. I felt that no matter what I felt led to do, I would be shut down. So I sat in silence.
The third time was when I encountered an incredibly challenging season in parenting and work. My kids were struggling, my students were struggling, and I was struggling to stay afloat. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything well and was failing everyone around me. I gave ear to the inner dialogue of self-doubt and self-loathing and I began to believe that I was more of a hindrance than a help to everyone around me. My fear of letting everyone down stifled my spirit and shut me down. I was in such a deep hole of personal fear, I didn’t know if I’d ever get out.
I share these three stories with you because I want you to understand that experiencing a silencing can come in multiple forms- from without and from within. Two of these situations were spurred by an outside factor, and one of them was purely my own making. But whatever the source of the silencing, there is one thing you HAVE to realize in order to recover:
No one can silence you but yourself.
If you are living in silence right now, it’s not anyone else’s choice but yours. The people who played a role in the first two silencings in my life were not bad people. They weren’t out to get me and probably had no idea the effect that their words had on my spirit. The issue was not them- it was the amount of control I gave their words over my life. Words only have the weight we give to them. Had I measured their words up to Phil. 4:8- “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…think about such things”- I could have quickly filtered through their opinions and found my hope in what was TRUE. But instead I allowed the words spoken to and over me to hold a greater weight than the Word of God in my life. And that is where we get into trouble. We find our voice again when we remember that:
God’s Word about us always trumps others’ words about us.
The third silencing didn’t have anything to do with others. In fact, I had many people speaking truth and hope and life over me during this season when my internal struggle was so deep. So how do we overcome the voice of the enemy in our own heads? How do we drown out the lies that silence our spirits? When I was going through this season, here’s an example of the constant dialogue that was happening in my head: “You’re messing everything up. You weren’t cut out for this. You’ve failed everyone around you. You’ll never be able to get this right. Your kids are suffering because of you. Your students would be better off with a different teacher. You’ve let your team down. Your husband is disappointed in you. You aren’t doing anything well. You might as well give up.”
I knew most of what I was hearing in my own head wasn’t really true, but I let the fear that it could be shut me down and silence me. I had no voice, I had no words, I had no joy. But slowly, I realized that although the circumstances around me were not changing, I had to or I wasn’t going to make it. Things were still tough, parenting was still hard, my students were still struggling, but I began to focus on the things I could control and I changed the dialogue by taking the focus off the internal and focusing on the external.
When we focus outwardly, we are changed inwardly.
What I really wanted to do was to shut myself in my room all day and watch Netflix, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere. So instead of letting myself be swallowed up in my own struggles, I looked around me and saw opportunities to be a voice of hope in the lives of others. I pushed out the negative self-talk by filling my mind with so much scripture, worship and encouragement that the space for negativity dwindled. There was no easy fix. It was work- hard work- getting out of that hole (and out of my pajamas) and finding my voice again. It was making choices fueled by my faith rather than my feelings. And guess what? No one patted me on the back for doing these things. There was no fan club cheering me on or drastic change in my circumstances that fueled my fire. It was simply digging my feet into what I knew to to be true and allowing that truth to free me from my fear.
Sometimes freedom isn’t instant, but is found in the daily work of holding tight to the truth.
Have you ever seen a bird or animal that has gotten tangled up and trapped in a net? Getting free isn’t a quick and easy thing. It’s a slow, painstaking process of cutting them loose, string by string, thread by thread. That’s a bit what recovering from being shut down feels like. There’s no magic formula. The freedom is found when we choose to surrender what we feel to the truth of who God says we are and let that break us free, string by string, day by day. John 8:31-32 says “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” It takes a firm, relentless grip to hold onto this truth, friends. Sometimes it will feel like all hell is trying to pull it away from us. It’s work, holding onto the truth. But when we hang on, freedom will come.
We find our voice where we find our freedom- in Jesus.
If you are in a season of silencing right now, I want to encourage you- your voice is valued, needed, unique and purposeful. Whether you’ve been silenced by someone’s words about you, actions towards you, or your own inner struggle, I pray that you will find freedom in the truth of who God says you are, and that your voice and confidence will return stronger than ever. This world needs you. Let Jesus start the work of cutting off the strings of doubt, fear and insecurity that have been holding your voice hostage. You will get free. It may take days, weeks, months, but one day you will stand miles away from here with a newfound strength in your voice and be able to shout of the faithfulness and goodness of God during your season of silence.
I’ll be listening for you.