Learning to find peace in the silence

Published 1:20 pm Sunday, October 3, 2021

Basically ignored growing up, three older sisters kept me distanced, attended small Catholic school (all grades), related to 90% of students – friends, girlfriend Public school, mom (RN) always at hospital, dad sickly, dying of a heart attack weeks before attending college – great pain, many years, major stress before understanding I was not a (total) mental case, social outcast per se, loser – but, huge insecure, introvert.

Compounding was public high school girlfriend off to Vanderbilt, not making friends my freshman year in college – didn’t want to get hurt again after dad’s recent death, dating, but if she got too close, I ran – few social skills, shy, perhaps looking a certain way – people thought I was aloof – ironically needing friends caused more pain and with few study skills, miserable and lost, almost flunked out!  But, with all that Catholic school stuff – finally found God through the pain for the first time.

Took years to understand that after being around people, my body reacted as on a caffeine high and needed quiet time, silence, to decompress and recharge my batteries – reinforcing that I was a basket case.

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Painful divorce late 80s, three wonderful sons, sought “professional” help – and those bloody hell idiots only added to my agony because they couldn’t think their way out of a dark room  – but learned a valuable lesson as a therapist later – what not to do.

One day, hero mom, Gert said I looked like Christ on the Cross (gaunt) suggested I get anointed by a priest in my then Catholic Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  New priest, Father Jeremiah Patrick McDevitt (great guy, still friends, now at Loyola, Chicago) did anoint me, became my confessor, spiritual adviser, and much needed counselor.

Fr. Pat asked what my mind process was at bedtime – wasn’t sleeping, mind racing at engine-blow redline 7000 rpms and Fr. Pat said … stop thinking, talking to God – and listen to God … huh?

Flashback Vietnam, July 1969-July 1970 – almost killed in many ways that traumatic year, one – pulling guard duty in our perimeter bunker all night every five days where year before during massive Viet Cong Tet Offensive all over Vietnam, 14 VC were killed in front of our bunker when they broke through our wire … then staring into a black jungle, finger on the 7.62mm M-60 machine gun trigger all night for a full year agonizingly waiting for an attack – many incidents, but in-between, oddly found peace in that deadly, eerie, scary, dark, silence before the noise … because after almost losing my life in a horrific rocket, mortar attack days into Vietnam, gave my life to God and accepted my death ….

How would God talk to me? In that same silence that caused me much PTSD to this day, I learned to listen to God, quiet my mind, took two weeks to understand that for God to talk to me, I had again to be still, quiet, and my thoughts would be His thoughts.  In being still, I was relaxed, open, listening, at peace … and finally heard God “talk” to me.

It can be uncomfortable to be quiet, alone in deafening silence, because stuff will come shouting at you – but as a therapist, taught my clients to push down the noise, “stop thoughts” to ignore those distractions, be quiet – and for me, a peace I never thought possible – listen to our Lord … and there is no greater peace on this earth!

A huge introvert, I need down time, silence, to think things out, be still, be with our Lord – which is one of the reasons I attend daily Mass at St. John’s Catholic Church in Oxford.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I arrive at church around 10:20am to setup the altar etc as sacristan and until Mass at 12:10, sit quietly with God, listen, pray, read, say my Rosary, sure surf Facebook, and charge my battery with a dozen other quiet, awesome, Ole Miss students and parishioners.

Tuesday and Thursday Mass is at 8:30 – all give me a reason to get up, clean up, get into the world, receive our Lord in the Eucharist (nothing measures up to this), be still, get my “instructions” for the day … and out from under my rock. 

“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again, because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping, and the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains with the sound of silence … ” Simon Garfunkel

Steve Stricker received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, lives in Oxford, and can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu.