When There’s Nothing to Say

What does one say in those situations in which there really is nothing to say, yet the urge to say something is overwhelming?

A brief setting of context here, though similar factors converge in other exceedingly difficult places in life. They are difficult places because they are abnormal, extreme, and excruciating; they defy satisfying explanations and hopeful visions of resolution. Just what do you say to the parents of a young man whose despondance led to the taking of his own life?

People take different approached to tragedies such as this. Many times the intentions are praiseworthy, but what is actually said turns out to be, in light of a recent post, stupid. We suspect as much, which in turn leads some sympathizers to stay away in order to avoid the possibility of speaking the stupid word, fearing the prospect of adding to the agony of the grieving ones. On the other end of the spectrum of response are those who just can’t wait to speak the word from the Lord which, in short term or long, will prove to be decisive in the healing of those left behind.

Then there is the “armchair” approach. It’s the need some of us will inevitably feel to figure out what might have led to the tragedy and ultimately tie up in a neat, logical (or theological) package the answer to the riddle of what went wrong. Here people will point to factors both internal to the person himelf, in familial relations, in relations to other persons, and external in the culture, where voices of hope do not abound and songs and visions of despair are disproportionately portrayed. There will be the virtually insufferable questioning of decisions, oversights on the part of parents and others close to the person, always coming to the unanswerable questions od why didn’t he, why did he, what if he had, why didn’t he, why did we, why didn’t we . . .? All of which overlooks the obvious point that innumerable parallel and, almost always, worse examples and factors occur routinely in this broken world yet without producing so horrific a result.

Sometimes the armchair is occupied by the determinist, who will ultimately conclude that this, like every other event that passes under the sun, is the will of God. Some of these will undoubtedly haul out Romans 8:28 and convince themselves that somehow this will turn out to be a good thing. Let’s be clear. The context of that passage does not necessitate that we call horrendously bad things good events, and certainly not that we ascribe them to God’s will; it tells us that in spite of all the very real and painful havoc sin has wreaked upon the occupants of this world, God’s good world will be redeemed, and His love in Christ is both His guarantee thereof and His way of being present with those who are His until that happens.

In the meantime we hurt, sometimes very, very badly. And if the character of Christ is in any way being formed in us, we will simply but meaningfully be with those who suffer as signs of hope. Maybe without saying anything when there is nothing to be said that will remove the pain. Perhaps that is the way of wisdom.

5 thoughts on “When There’s Nothing to Say

  1. Beautiful conclusory paragraph.

    It’s truth…and in The Truth we find wisdom….we find healing.

    When we lost our son…some of the most well-meaning people shared words of encouragement with us that at the moment were the most painful to hear….like Romans 8:28….The difficult part was how to respond with grace when they offer these bits of encouragement.

    The armchair response is one that many people offer (too many)…and it is rooted in our desire to blame…this is a desire that does not come from Our Father.

    (Ironic…I am leaving a comment – something to say – on a post about saying nothing)… :)

  2. It really depends on each individual and your relationship (or lack thereof) with them.

    About a year ago we got news that my cousin in his early 40’s passed away. He had always been single, and was the only child. My aunt and uncle were very quiet about the details, but we knew he had not been sick, and the few details we got, he had died some time before, and they needed to fly down to Florida to identify the remains. Suicide? Murder? Terrible accident in a private location? I will probably NEVER know. I really struggled with what to write them, as I knew they weren’t ready to talk with anyone. They hadn’t told any family members until after the funeral that David was gone. But I wanted them to know that David meant something to others, too. I simply wrote them that I was so sorry to hear the news, and as a parent myself I couldn’t even begin to fathom the pain they were going through. I recalled a small funny incident from our childhood, and said that was how David lived in my heart. I then told them that I was grieving with them, and signed off “Love, Kathy.” No questions. No accusations. No explaining why I thought this happened. No scripture. It was a couple of months later my aunt actually wrote back. She needed to hear that someone else cared, without all the other garbage people are tempted to say. She also enclosed a picture of the three of them together, something that was very personal for her to do.

    If I had said nothing, written nothing, I think it would have left the impression that I didn’t care, which would have added to their pain.

    I’ve lived long enough now to know I don’t know very much, “why” God does or allows things to happen. But I can tell people I grieve with them, and let them know they are in my prayers. Funny, even non-believers like knowing someone is praying for them.

    • You’re right, Kathy. I did not mean that silence was the answer–just that the urge to provide answers or the right word is not a good idea. Presence means everything. And the time for talking will come later, at the spoken or unspoken request of the ones who grieved. Thanks for your thoughts and experiences shared.

  3. Wonderfully said, Ken…I’ve made all of these mistakes over the years, but have over time learned and practiced a bit more grace as I’ve encountered my own moments of sadness and brokenness… I think of Job’s friends, who yabbered on and on, when their quiet presence would have said more and better. Thanks for reminding us…particularly in a situation such as the very real one you mention above.

  4. Thanks for “being clear,” Ken. May those who hurry to speak into the unfathomable never hear such speech when the unfathomable falls upon them–lest the pain of discovering the pain they caused break them entirely.

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