Today, I sit in a hotel room preparing to speak—not to a national audience, or even a small congregation. This morning, I slowly put on my spiritual armor to share words with three people.
Just three. A mom. A dad. A daughter.
It’s not a paid gig or one that will gain any second bookings. On this cold morning, my extended family and I gather around the bedside of one far more beautiful than what cancer that has ravaged her body will let shine through. Our loved one waits daily, hourly for the Angel of Death to come and usher her Home to her Father in heaven.
Armed with smiles, tears, and sometimes even laughter if the moment permits, she keeps leaning on her faith until the moment it will become fact.
As ones who have the privilege to sit next to her, holding her hand, telling stories, watching endless episodes of her favorite show, we draw near, even as eternity knocks at her door.
Every time I am in this unique position, my heart battles with what to say to the dying and then what to say to the living who will be left behind. I ask, or rather beg, the Lord, “Father, what can I possibly say to them that will make a bit of difference?”
His faithful answer is always, “What I tell you, and sometimes, nothing at all.”
My flesh argues, “That can’t be right. I must prepare. They are going to need words of comfort.”
Then He reminds me of Job and his friends when they got it right.
“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:13.
Sometimes our presence is the best way to usher in His presence.
The Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva,” a seven-day observance where loved ones sit with the mournful to allow them to express their grief, usually starts the moment after burial, but I believe the Lord allows, and I dare say encourages, us to practice this ancient art of bereavement long before last breaths.
In our world of ten-minute attention spans and general uncomfortableness with suffering, we imagine nothing worse than sharing silent space with those so close to life’s end. But the truth the Enemy cleverly hides is that honoring the hurting with the ministry of quiet nearness actually heals. It is a “no regret zone” available to the brave.
While words are precious and powerful, occasionally, it’s best if they are few. The power of choosing to listen instead of speaking in someone’s final moments can foster peace as much as phrases or soliloquies that might only bring us relief.
As always, the Holy Spirit promises to lead and guide. He will give His words aptly, but if He closes our mouths in order for us to be fully present in someone else’s pain, then let’s choose His directed mutism and feel its holiness. Offering our bodies as living, silent sacrifices might be the greatest gift we have to offer when gifts no longer matter.
Allowing Him to guide our hearts assures our tongues will follow. When the moment is right, and our words are welcomed, He will provide them. In the meantime, when we have the chance to practice the sacred enoughness of silence, let’s be courageous, sensitive and obedient to set aside what is comfortable and grab hold of what is divine.
In the silence,
Denise C. McDowell
You can find me at www.denisemcdowell.com