At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign. He was slow to believe that a son is possible for him and his wife in their advanced age. He was given a dramatic, unexpected sign: he became mute for 9-months.
Some say he was punished for doubting. Yet, my experience of not talking for months helps me to see Zechariah’s imposed silence as effective preparation. When I was 21 years old, I underwent orthognathic surgery to correct a severe under bite. My mouth was wired for 12 weeks shut to allow my jawbone to heal and set in. I could not talk and was limited to a liquid diet. It was a long three-month waiting, unbearable at times. When I finally spoke, I was filled with gratitude and expectancy. I caught a glimpse of what Zechariah experienced. When he finally spoke, he sang out an effusive canticle which began with: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free …” (1:68). For nine trying months, as his son was growing in his wife’s womb, Zechariah was being prepared to join the unfolding drama of God’s saving love. His unexpected sign allowed him the opportunity to grow in trust.
We all ask for signs, for special favors from God. Yet, we often receive unexpected responses which bring about opportunities. There is a wonderful depiction from the movie Evan Almighty about invitations to grow through seemingly unanswered prayers: “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If she prayed for courage, does God give her courage? Or does God give her opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings? Or does God give them opportunities to love each other?”
What signs are you asking for in your life? How might you be invited to grow through unexpected responses?