When There’s Nothing to Say

October 11, 2023
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Years ago, I got a call from one of my inner circle guys. Early afternoon. His 18-month-old grandson drowned that morning. He asked if I could come to the hospital. I was on the way before we got off the phone. I walked in the hospital and then into the room where the family was. My friend asked me to follow him. We left that room and entered another where the mom and dad were. I looked to the side and there was the body of the 18-month-old child. Lifeless.  

What would you say?  

What is there to say?  

Hopefully you can feel the uselessness of words in that moment. There was nothing to say and to say anything would be to diminish the utter gutting of what was happening.  

Sometimes, maybe more times than you realize, nothing can be said. Now, my example is extreme. But for the one suffering whatever their pain they may be feeling something so acute that there is just nothing to say. 

Many of us know well the story of Job. To summarize, in three successive events, Job lost all his livestock, his business was instantly gone. Immediately after this horror, Job was told that his seven sons and three daughters died in a tornado. Shortly thereafter Job suffered a horrific bout of boils so intensely that he took a piece of pottery and scraped his skin! In a final blow Job’s wife told him to just curse God and die.  

Can you imagine the pain?  

You must read these verses that come next in Job’s story from Job 2:11-13, 

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great (italics added). 

Job’s pain was incomprehensible.  

Now, Job’s friends can get a really bad rap because of the kind of counsel they eventually give Job. HOWEVER, they come and sit with Job for seven days and do not say a word! Uh….um….how many friends do you have that would do that? For seven days? For how many people would you do that?  

And to sit there and not say a word!  

What would you say? 

What is there to say? 

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar should be exalted as examples of men who understood pain, the limitations of words, and the POWER of presence. Great, great comforting power exists just in being present with someone. Job’s friends “sat down on the ground with him!” (Job 2:13). Can you feel the power of their presence? Can you feel the hurt they would feel as they looked upon their friend and his pain and knew there were no words to say?  

When you have been in so much pain, or in the presence of someone suffering intense pain, you begin to learn the limitations of words. And you begin to learn the raw power of presence.  

My long-time friend, daughter-in-the-faith, and TREXO super administrator, Jessica Gilbert, and her husband, Tony, have experienced that kind of darkness. When their first child, Alden, was two months old he was diagnosed with cancer. The darkness and uncertainty and fear were immeasurable. Jessica says about her experience in the way people handled their pain, “when we were in the depths of Alden’s treatment, the more that people stressed over us or the more words that came from other people just magnified the situation that we were in. The calm, quiet, confident presences were the best.” 

The power of presence.  

One other thing that Job’s friends did that was absolutely genius – they waited and waited and let Job go first! Job 3:1 says, “Afterward (after the seven days) Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” Yikes. That is pain, man. But they let Job go first.  

One thing that has been true about every person with whom I have sat with that is suffering – they want to talk. They absolutely want to talk. They may cry. They may wale. They may stare off into the distance. They may wallow. But they absolutely want to talk. But they only want to talk WHEN they are ready.  

Do NOT rush them. 

They are not on your timetable. You are on theirs. Be still. Breathe. Feel their pain. If appropriate help around the house without saying a word. Mow the grass. Take their car to get an oil change or a wash. Buy groceries.  

Or do none of that and just sit in their presence.  

You can imagine the friends experience when Job lifted his head, looked at each one of them in the face, and spoke. He was ready.  

Now, the rest of Job shows us how much better the friends would have done had they remained silent! Their advice and dialogue were terrible. But they started so well!  

So, what do you say when there is nothing to say? 

You say nothing. 

And that can be the best thing you can say.   

  1. This is so powerful and so true. Thank you so much for sharing this because it seems to be something many believers don’t stop to understand. In the rush to “do” they forget to “be”. They mean well, but the grieving soul needs presence. And they need to pour out. There will be time to do and to counsel later, but just to be and hear is so powerful.

    1. Post

      Greg…you know you’re a hero of mine in the world of persevering. What you endure is exceedingly challenging and how you do it is exemplary! Folks who have not experienced chronic situations have a hard time understanding or knowing what to say. I hope these blogs help.

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