What should I say?
One of the joys of working with teenagers is that they so often have a way of articulating what adults are sometimes unable to vocalize. As an example, last summer I accompanied a group of middle school girls to a local nursing home to visit some of the residents. As we walked down the hall I could sense some of their reservation. And when I inquired, their collective response was: “I don’t really know what to do when we get in the room. What should I say to them?”
These teenagers, perhaps unknowingly, named the fear so many of us may have. Particularly as Christian people, we are well aware of our calling to care for our neighbor, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, and otherwise love those around us. The Bible pretty clearly spells out the sorts of actions we might consider taking as we follow the example of Christ.
And yet the Bible doesn’t give many specifics on what words to say to our brothers & sisters in need. There is no script, no handbook that directs our dialogue as we go about serving others.
So what do we say? As I sat this week with a refugee who was concerned about her family’s safety here in the United States, I was at a loss for words. What does anyone say to the person grieving the death of a loved one? What words can be uttered to one who has just lost his job or to a woman losing her hair after the first chemotherapy treatment? It can almost feel like words just fall short.
It’s in these sorts of moments that I think of the story of Job. When he’d lost everything he had—his family & possessions & good health, among other things—his three friends showed up to offer consolation. Interestingly enough, they didn’t say a word.
They wept and prayed and sat beside Job for seven days & seven nights without speaking a single sentence. His friends must’ve recognized that what Job needed, more than any sound advice or well-intentioned platitudes, was to know that he wasn’t alone. In fact, things started to go downhill the moment they opened their mouths.
What did I tell those teenaged girls at the nursing home that summer day? I thought a good place to start would be to say your name & then sit down. Let them know you’re interested in staying for awhile to hear their stories.
It’s just fine if you, like me, sometimes worry about what to say in tough situations. Like Job’s friends, just show up. Pull up a chair & get comfortable. What should you say? As long as you’re willing to stay close, maybe you don’t need to say anything at all.
–Katy Warren, associate pastor