The Blessing of the Awkward Silence

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By Breanna Lowman

In junior high, I learned a new term: Awkward Silence.

I guess I didn’t know that silence had to be awkward. As a child, I was never afraid of what people thought of me. Like most children, I was free – free from filters, comparisons, and insecurities. However, when I entered junior high (after being homeschooled until that point), classmates started calling me shy and asked me why I was afraid to talk. I didn’t understand their question. I had always been a thoughtful and quiet person, but not out of fear. It was more so because I just didn’t have anything to say. I wasn’t afraid to talk like they thought but I did become afraid to be silent.

When my classmates pointed out these “awkward silences,” the moment immediately became more awkward. And the more this happened, the more insecure I became. Times of silence would put me in a panic. I had to fill the space and come up with something to say, but the panic made it harder to think, so in the end I was still quiet. I tried so hard to run from the title of “shy” and yet the harder I tried, the more I appeared to be just that.

Years later, my husband and I moved to Beijing, China and lived there for nearly five years.

I found the path back to freedom through the friendships I made in China. I remember the first time we were invited to our neighbors’ house for dinner. In all about five minutes, I had exhausted every Chinese word I knew. We sat in silence and that familiar feeling of panic came over me. But when I looked at our friend’s faces, they were clearly at peace and enjoying themselves. They did not feel the awkwardness of the moment. We made and ate dumplings, drank tea, looked at photos, and tried to play board games. Apart from much laughter and a few words here and there, we were silent.

We were invited to their home again. And again.

And again!

I thought I needed to fill the empty space in order to keep people around, to keep them interested in being my friend. But sitting with these friends from another land, with no ability to communicate, brought me back to my freedom of not needing to speak to be accepted or liked or wanted. Being able to be comfortable in silence once again was a breath of fresh air.

There was an exercise I did at a pregnancy retreat this past summer that was surprisingly powerful. I sat cross-legged on the floor, right across from another mamma. We each took our hand and placed it on the other’s heart. For five minutes we had to stare into each other’s eyes. It was incredibly awkward at first. I so badly wanted to look away. But as time went by, I noticed the beauty of the person in front of me. The connection was intense and at the end of the exercise, we were both crying and telling each other how beautiful and lovely the other was. The silence and physical connection of this exercise heightened our sensitivity to the glory and beauty right in front of us. How often do we miss the fullness of the moment we are in due to our own discomfort with silence? What if silence is meant to open us up to more than what we see possible in any given moment?

Awkward silences are important. My journey in accepting awkward moments as blessings has brought peace and contentment to my heart. These silences give me the chance to take in the moment, to really feel it and see it and experience it. Awkward silence is life taking a breath. It is an opportunity to take in where I am and what I am doing and who I am with. It is in this silence among others that I find I can simply be myself, with no pressure to perform, no need to impress, and no awkwardness to be avoided. I am free. Free to not speak. Free to be myself and be fully accepted just as I am. To know that I am valued and that the person in front of me is valuable too.

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About Breanna:

I am a wannabe artist who glories in the imperfect, a traveler who adores new cultures, a writer who values authenticity, a free spirit once bound by insecurity and performance, and a busybody learning to rest in the simple and mundane. I am a wife to a wonderful and caring husband (Chris), a mother to two beautiful children (Ru and Ryker), and a follower of Jesus, our one true king. Traveling to nine countries and living in China for nearly five years opened my eyes to the world and showed me more of the true Jesus. I am currently living with my family back in our hometown of Prescott, Arizona waiting for our next adventure.

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