The wisdom of silence

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair — every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Proverbs 2:6, 9-10

“My brother died today.”

I fought the call to nursing home ministry because I knew this moment would come. I fought it, because I feared death. I feared grief. I feared the proximity of mortality.

Perhaps above all, I feared this moment, and having no idea what to say. But, I read. I studied. I rehearsed. I felt prepared. After all, I told myself, I’m a pretty smart guy.

And yet, I found myself sitting in front of a woman whose only living relative had just died. And I had no idea what to say.  Words refused to come. I squirmed in my seat, wringing my hands, trying to squeeze something soothing and useful out of my empty brain.

But I had nothing. After a long, awkward moment, I stammered a true theological gem: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Feeling utterly useless, and completely silent, I did the only thing I could think to do: I sat with her and held her hand. After what seemed like a long time, we prayed together.

She cried. I was silent. Eventually we parted, feeling as if something immense had passed between us.

This scene has repeated itself numerous times since that day. I no longer worry about knowing what to say in these situations. I know now there’s no amount of studying, no amount of preparation that will tell me what to say when someone needs the presence of Christ.

All any of us can do is our best to ground ourselves in the Word, and then be there. Be present for those who are hurting. Be with them. Love them. Embrace their pain. And don’t be afraid to be silent. If that silence needs to be filled, God will fill it. And He will fill it with a wisdom we cannot approach on our own.

Holy Spirit, guide us in our words and presence. Inspire us and lead us into the places of pain, grief and fear, and arm us, we pray, with the words to bring comfort where it is needed – even if those words be reverent silence. Amen.

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