When Words Don't Work
“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.” Job 2:13 (NASB)
A few weeks ago, a doctor told me I’d probably lose my big toe as some uncommon benign process had done damage to my bone. While I’m grateful to have other solutions now, imagine my dismay the day I received that worst-case scenario.
I cried a lot and felt overwhelmed at the thought of amputation, the reality of rehab and how my life would make room for healing. I didn’t have words.
But right in the middle of my attempt to process the early prognosis, a longtime dear friend told me she wanted to stop by. She told me she wouldn’t stay long, but she just wanted to visit with me.
My friend arrived at the door, brought a chair into the bedroom and sat. She didn’t try to offer words of comfort or some super spiritual word of encouragement. I’m so glad because I’m not sure her words would have worked. She made it clear she just wanted to be there and support me with her presence. This friend acknowledged my pain without focusing on it. We laughed a bit, and she let me cry a bit too.
Sometimes life delivers news that knocks the wind out of us, and we just don’t have words — for our pain or for the pain of others. And here’s what I’ve learned: Words matter, but sometimes our presence matters more.
When Job experienced great tragedy in his life, he had three friends who came to visit. They came intending to sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11) But when they realized how bad things were, they mourned with him then sat with him in silence.
“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.” (Job 2:12-13, NASB)
The beautiful thing about Job’s friends is that they were friends of action. They looked out for him and noticed he was hurting. They came to Job without him having to call them to attention. They didn’t start out attempting to fix his problems but chose instead to simply be with him in his despair.
They acted as friends, even though they were speechless. They joined Job in his active grief but didn’t say a word. There was nothing to be said. They understood the value in the companion of silent presence. They were willing to mourn with him, mingle their tears with his and offer quiet comfort.
It’s only later that Job’s friends make things worse when they tried to use their words to explain Job’s troubles. In fact, only in their attempt to explain the pain did his friends earn their reputation for being insensitive, heartless and cruel.
But we can learn from their first response. Job’s friends came and sat with him in a demonstrable way to show their support without offering a solution.
And this is what I noticed about the beauty of my friend sitting with me.
Her presence mattered.
Maybe someone’s breast cancer diagnosis or chronic fibromyalgia.
Maybe someone’s recovery from divorce or from financial troubles.
Maybe someone’s new baby, empty nest, lonely heart or journey through grief.
We are a culture driven by what we can do. While doing has its place, let’s remember that “being” — our presence with someone we care about — carries importance as well … even if we don’t think we have something helpful to say.
Sure, sometimes we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing at all. While our intentions are real, in lieu of grand gestures we don’t act because we’re unsure if our actions actually matter. We discount the beauty of “being there.”
My friend’s presence reminded me that it’s okay if you can’t “fix it.” It’s perfectly fine if you don’t have a solution or can’t provide the perfect answer. Proverbs tells us that sometimes words just don’t work.
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19, NASB)
Even counselors know sometimes the best thing to do is simply sit and listen. You don’t always have to have the right word to say or know the perfect thing to do. When words don’t work, your presence alone can be both a personable and poignant way to show a hurting friend you care.
Dear Father, help me see others who are hurting. Help me respond in a way that serves them and honors You. Give me words when words are a help, but help me be there for others when my presence is what they need most. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (NASB)
1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (ESV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Has someone ever been present in a way that helped you during a hard time? How did that encourage you?
Who needs your presence more than they need your words? How can you make yourself available today?