I pride myself on my use of words. Much of the time this pride is probably undeserved, or at the very least blown way out of proportion to my actual abilities. But overall I love words. I love the power they have to enthrall, woo, convince, enlighten, and entertain us. A good book and a warm mug of coffee are possibly the greatest paring for me on earth, and if I’m not in the mood to read a movie or television show with witty banter is a great second.
As a part of my seminary studies we discuss our strengths frequently, and one of my top strengths is communication. I agonize over word choice in emails, ensuring I don’t unintentionally offend the recipient. I sit with students and try to mediate arguments caused by the careless use of words thrown out in anger. Words have an amazing amount of power, but sometimes, there are no words.
No words sufficient enough to dull the pain, no vocabulary dense enough to convey our outrage and disgust over a senseless tragedy, and no platitudes capable of taking away the very real, and raw sting of loss. This doesn’t stop some of us from offering the same old lines, especially christians… right?
“When God closes a door he opens a window”
“Heaven gained another angel”
“God won’t give you anything more than you can handle”
“All of these trials are just making you stronger”
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of these sayings, let me ask you… how loud did you want to scream? I know when I’ve lost a job I don’t want to hear about windows being opened… who climbs out the window? Someone whose house is on fire that’s who! Or when I’ve lost loved ones, it is no consolation (in the moment) to hear about heaven gaining another angel, in that moment I need to be selfish and grieve over the loss of them right here and now. The loss of hand holds, hugs, kisses and laughter.
And about that whole giving me more than I can handle… obviously its not more than I can handle, I’m still alive. But could you take some of it on for me? Could you watch my kids, wash my dishes, buy some groceries so I don’t have to handle so much? And right now I don’t want to be stronger, I want to be asleep, can these trials make some extra time for me to sleep them off because that’d be great.
What if we started responding to these trials and tragedies of life with presence instead of platitudes. What if, instead of throwing out words and seeing what sticks, we simply said…
“I love you, I’m here, tell me what you need”.
Maybe it wouldn’t make us feel as good, because we wouldn’t have said the right words at the right time, but we would be there, and in the end, do you remember what people said to you in the worst time of your life, or do you remember the people who sat there, held you while you wailed, screamed, cried and lashed out at God and everybody, but continued to love you anyway?
Maybe its time to start using less words, and begin giving up more time to be present with one another.
Presence is greater than Platitudes