“Do you have someone to lead the service for you?”
They sat together in a warmly decorated room. The chairs were soft and would have been comfortable anywhere else. But no one is comfortable in these chairs. No one wants to be here having this conversation.
“Do you have someone? A pastor or a family member who can help you with the service and support you?” the funeral director asked again gently.
“No. Not really,” one of them said.
“What about the chaplain at the hospital? He knew when not to say anything.”
A few minutes later, my phone rang.
I was with them when their child died just a day prior. I gathered with them, alongside family members and friends, as they held their baby for the last time.
“He knew when not to say anything.”
What could I have even said? No words could change what happened. I couldn’t promise that everything was going to be ok. No magic Bible verse or prayer would heal their wounds or raise their child. I imagine they had a million questions and still do. I imagine in their grief; they felt anger and heartbreak, fear and loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, and countless other emotions. But at that moment, there was nothing to say. So I stood there in the silence. The only sound was our weeping. And by the grace of God, I stayed. I stayed there with them in that room's terrible silence and stillness. And somehow, the absence of words was a comfort to them.
My phone rang. “Are you available to help this family with a funeral?”
“Of course I am,” I said. And leading that funeral was one of the great honors of my life.
I’ve spent much of my life learning to listen to God’s voice. I’ve spent much of my life trying to help others learn to do the same. It’s an important thing for a person of faith to be able to discern God’s voice above everything else. It’s a noisy world. But I also wonder if God always has something to say. Is God always speaking, or is God sometimes silent? If God is sometimes silent, could that be a good thing?
Even well-intentioned words can feel more patronizing and harmful when facing something hard. People try to offer comfort or direction with their words but end up exasperating things further.
Several weeks ago – in the middle of the worst panic attack of my life – a well-intentioned EMT kept saying, “You just need to calm yourself down, sir.” What he said was true, but his words didn’t help. My inability to “just calm down” was exactly the problem. I couldn’t; even the truest, most directive words sent me deeper into panic.
“Why can’t I stop gasping? Why are my hands numb? Why does my chest hurt? Why is my mind so out of control? Why am I so scared? Why am I so cold? Why can’t I just calm down?”
Maybe sometimes words aren’t helpful.
Maybe sometimes words make things worse.
Maybe God has the wisdom to know when to speak and when to not.
Maybe sometimes the silence of God is exactly what I need.
Silence does not equate to absence. When God is silent, God has gone off somewhere else. God remains present.
Silent presence helped tend to that beloved family's needs when their child died. Silence allowed me to accompany them further in their grief journey than I would have otherwise been able.
Maybe sometimes God is silent AND present so God can best accompany me as I continue on my journey of grief and healing.