By Syd Hielema
I’m not looking for sympathy, but think about it —a priest without children. I could see it in people’s eyes: wondering if there were some secret sin in me that made my wife barren.
Gabriel said that God heard my prayers? Let me tell you about those prayers. I prayed the psalms of vindication: Psalm 35, verses 17-26, and Psalm 43, verses 1-4. I had stopped praying for a child, and my prayers had become focused on wanting the respect of the community.
And then—and then I was vindicated! The lot fell to me and I was chosen to go to into the holy of holies. The lot was God’s voice, saying, “You are my chosen one; you will represent me in this special way.” And do you want to know what the real highlight was? It was my moment of vindication, my moment of showing the world that I deserved to be priest—coming out afterward and pronouncing the blessing. I, who had been as close to the face of God as one can be on this earth, would come out of the holy of holies into the courtyard. My face would be glowing, and I would raise my hands, slowly and with dignity, and pronounce those wonderful words of blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” I would look into the people’s eyes and I would see my vindication.
There I was, in the holy of holies, basking in this thought, and the angel said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God” He told me that Elizabeth and I would have a son. I said, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are old.” The angel was not impressed. He declared, “Because you didn’t believe, you will be silent, unable to speak until the day this happens.”
I wanted to argue with him, but my voice had left me. And then it hit me—my vindication was also gone. My moment of vindication, the blessing that I would pronounce— it wasn’t going to happen.
“Be still and know that I am God.” For a whole year, I pondered that one sentence over and over again.
As you can imagine, it took a while to get Elizabet to understand what had happened. She’s one good woman, and I could tell she felt bad for me. But she had a gleam in her eye when I wrote down the angel’s words. And I don’t think she minded I could not speak. I think she was a bit tired of all my whining about vindication.
Can you imagine not talking for a year? To me it seemed cruel.
But it changed me. The psalms of vindication were gone, and just one verse from the psalms took their place: “Be still and know that I am God.” For a whole year, I pondered that one sentence over and over again.
Let me tell you what happens when that song fills your heart for a whole year. You begin to see God in places you had never seen him before. I would wake up, and the song would begin as I looked at Elizabeth, still sleeping beside me, and I would pray, “Holy Lord God, thank you for this woman, this godly woman who for years has courageously shared with me the grief of our childlessness and now shares the joy of this blessing of life on the way.”
Then I would walk outside and pray, “Holy Lord God, I thank you that this is the day that you have made. You created the morning star that is now fading as the sun readies to rise; you ride on the wings of the clouds; you water the fields and feed the animals.”
I would gather with the worshiping community, but my principal task of teaching had been silenced. Instead, I would sit and pray, “Holy Lord God, you know each one gathered here intimately—and you walk with each one. Help me to know them as you know them.” I would look into the eyes of each worshiper and see in those eyes hope, longing, pain, sorrow, repentance, or hardness of heart I saw God working in people’s lives in ways I had never seen before.
It was as if the blessing that I was unable to pronounce needed an entire year to work its way through my own anxious, harried, unable-to-rest heart.
Am I thankful for this year of silence? Yes, but I would never want to repeat it.
But the Lord has blessed my year of silence beyond all measuring. My anxious heart—let’s be honest—there’s still anxiety in there. Will I live long enough to see my son grow into adulthood? How do you raise someone who has been given a special calling by the Lord himself? Yes, there’s enough anxiety in my heart to last for the rest of my lifetime. But that anxiety is now surrounded by a peace that comes from the Lord, a peace that knows that God is sovereign. I’ve learned that God’s power can be made perfect through my weakness. He is my rest, my shepherd.