What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say


Are you afraid of saying the wrong thing with someone who's going through a hard time? It's good to share in each other's troubles, and it's better to risk doing it wrong than doing nothing at all.

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." Philippians 4:13-14 (NIV, 1984)

I don't understand some things that happen in life. When one of the most vivacious, fun-loving, beautiful, determined-to-tell-the-world-about-Jesus women I knew found out her cancer was back, my heart broke.

Short of a miraculous healing from God, Brenda wouldn't make it through the end of the year.

One afternoon, I sat with Brenda talking and processing her reality. At one point, she got very quiet. It was as if she could see things I couldn't. After a few minutes of silent reflection, she leaned over and whispered, "I know in my heart I'm not going to be here much longer. And I need to know my girls will be okay. They need godly women to walk with them, speak into them and guide them into the future God has for them."

With tears streaming down my face, I committed to being one of those women.

A few weeks later, Brenda's feeling was confirmed as she let go of her family's hand and walked into glory.

Paige and Philecia were 19 and 14 years old, the same ages as my oldest and youngest daughters. I had no idea how to do this right. I didn't have a game plan or a degree in grief counseling. My schedule was crazy. My own kids made me question my sanity some days. And I was so hyperaware of all the many ways I'm flawed. But one thing I knew I could do — be a female voice that whispered often into their lives, "I love you."

Uttering three simple words into the deep grief of two brokenhearted little girls didn't seem like much, but God used it in profound ways.

I couldn't take away their pain. But I could bring joy in the midst of it.

I whispered "I love you" at simple, everyday dinners at my house. I wrote "I love you" on the tops of their birthday gifts and Christmas morning surprises. I texted it when I invited them for afternoon coffee and movie dates. Nothing about it was organized or done perfectly. But just the effort seemed to be what mattered most.

And bit by bit, day by day, love is helping us all figure out this hard time together.

I wonder if you have a friend going through a really tough time. Have you wrestled like I did with not knowing what to say? Being afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing? I understand.

But I've learned it's better to risk doing it wrong than to do nothing at all. A simple "I love you" said or written in conjunction with meeting a practical need is a great place to start.

In May, the girls celebrated their first Mother's Day without Brenda. I knew they would need an "I love you" to help ease the ache of this day. So, I invited their family to join mine for dinner that night.

Halfway through the meal, I wished I had thought in advance of some wonderfully profound words to share to honor Brenda. But right as I was lamenting not being better prepared for this moment, Paige pulled out a framed letter they'd written to me. In honor of Brenda, they'd decided to give me a gift they knew she would have loved ... a gold cross necklace.

I was crying so hard I could barely read their letter. But since then, I've read it many times. It sits on my bedside table as a reminder of how powerful love is. In the letter they included one of Brenda's favorite verses, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength," (Philippians 4:13). Interestingly enough, the very next verse reads, "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles" (v.14).

Yes, it is good to share in each other's troubles. And so, with a willing but very imperfect heart, I will keep whispering "I love you" into the lives of Brenda's beautiful girls.

I still don't understand why this happened. And I don't always know the right things to say in response to deep grief. But I do know love is a beautiful thing to bring into the gap of all the unknowns.

Dear Lord, thank You for showing me the power of Your great love. Help me to be a reflection of Your love to the ones You have entrusted to me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

1 John 4:7, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (NIV)

Who is God calling you to come alongside and show love to?

This month, choose one person or a family, and think of ways to bless and encourage them. It could be through prayer, quality time, helping with errands or anything else the Lord leads you to do.

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