Recently, I saw a friend from a church where I was the pastor several years ago. She remarked that her grandson was graduating from high school this spring. I said that he was not even born before I left that church. Then she shared an incident that happened when I was still at that church.
She asked if I remembered when her daughter-in-law had a miscarriage a few years before this grandson was born. I did not recall the details. She said I had gone to see the young woman after the sad event. Later she asked her daughter-in-law, “What did Ed say to you?” She answered I had not said much, “We just sat and cried together.” That had meant more than any words I might have said. And her mother-in-law still remembered that event fondly.
Sometimes words get in the way. Sometimes all we can do is sit and cry together. Sometimes that what is most needed.
My old friend, Rev. Herb Williamson, was doing Clinical Pastoral Education with me twenty-five years ago. He visited a family that was waiting for the outcome of a critical surgery on a family member. The father began asking Chaplain Williamson several medical questions. All Herb could say to the questions was, “I don’t know.”
Finally the father got frustrated and said angrily, “You don’t know much, do you?”
Rather than take offense, Herb responded with love, “I know I am sitting with a father who is very worried about his son.”
After that, all the barriers were down and they had genuine dialogue.
Many times our first response is to try to give answers to questions that have no answers. Sometimes we have to admit we don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, that is the perfect answer. We want to put a bandage on it, or give a tissue for the tears. But that is not always the most helpful response.
Sometimes the best thing we can give is ourselves. Sometimes listening is better than answering. Sometimes hurting with the hurt is better than dulling the pain. Sometimes we are better off being than doing.
The Bible talks about Christ being “acquainted with our griefs” (Isaiah 53:3) and “understanding our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). That is more comforting than someone who has no idea what we are going through. And sometimes God’s spirit just interprets our “groaning too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
That is what I need from time to time, and I bet it is for you too.