February 3, 2011

When You Have Nothing To Say

Take it from me, I am rarely at a loss for words. Maybe it is my personality, maybe it is my calling, maybe it is the household I grew up in but I rarely find myself short of things to talk about. Today seems to be one of those rare days. My words are stored up somewhere deep in the back of my mind, and I can't seem to access them. There were three or more ideas I toyed with for today, but nothing seemed right. Nothing flowed.

Now when you are trying to write a blog, on a Tuesday/Thursday self proscribed schedule writers block is annoying. But since I do this for my enjoyment more than anything I can't say I really am stressing over it.

I am amazingly amused by this

However there are other times when having nothing to say seems more problematic. Right now I am working on a sermon about God and unexpected disasters. I think we have all found ourselves face to face with someone suffering and struggled with knowing what to say.

The theological term for this is theodicy, the problem of evil and suffering. In the face of suffering what do you say? What words of comfort do you speak? Everything happens for a reason? God will bring some good out of this? It will all work out?

Such comments are best left in classrooms and other sterile environments. In the face of live people, who are actually suffering from real disasters such comments typically garner nothing but frustration, anger, and sorrow.

What good will a brain tumor bring someone? Now in reality it may bring a lot of good. It may help a person come to terms with a sin in their life. It may help a person come to faith in Christ. It may help a person finally be the spouse and parent they always should have been. Or it may do none of those things. It may just make them sick, suffer, and die. And that's the problem, every bad thing does not produce any obvious good outcome. And even if it does, I think it is natural to ask, couldn't this 'good' outcome have been achieved some other way? 

Also there is a sort of danger in assuming bad things happen to people to teach them a lesson. It can allow us to blame them for their own suffering. We assume God must be doing this because they need to learn some sort of lesson.

When the cliches are striped away what is left? So often it is silence. I want to suggest that silence may not be as bad as it seems. Silence can be very caring, and very compassionate. When Job's friends sat in silence with him, sharing his suffering and pain they did him a great service (shame about the rest of the story though). 

Being present in silence can help you enter their world. But it can do something else too. Being silent means you are more likely to listen. You can hear what they have to say, you can be a sounding board for their raw emotions, and their unedited thoughts. Silence allows you to listen.

You can only listen, when you are silent. 

Make no mistake, this is hard. This type of silence takes a lot out of you. It takes a lot of emotional energy, and it takes a lot of time. It is far easier to offer a quick statement of comfort, a bible verse, and a prayer than it is to really be with a person as the suffer. 

Sometimes a word of comfort is all you have to give, and there is nothing wrong with that. But be open to having nothing to say. Because if you are, you may get to speak volumes into someones life when they need it most.