I Don’t Know What To Say

I usually write my blog post on Friday. This gives me time to review and tweak it before publication time on Monday morning. This Friday, my husband peeked around the corner and saw me idly scrolling through Facebook.

I thought you were working on your post.

I told him I didn’t know what to say. He commented that I wasn’t usually at a loss for words. In other words, um, I talk a lot.

Back when schools used to give conduct grades, I rarely got an A or E for excellence. Inevitably it was an S for satisfactory and the note that “Laurie talks too much in class.” As a teenager, I would spend hours on the phone with a friend leading to late nights of bleary-eyed homework completion.

Over the decades of my work-life I conducted myriad training sessions and made lots of presentations to customers and my bosses. I would have to practice diligently, editing myself to be sure I didn’t run over the allotted time.

But, every once in a while, I hit a stumbling block. I can’t summon the right words. Trauma can do that. When I got the awful phone call from my son-in-law that Rachel had died in a car accident on her way to work that morning, it immediately set in motion the need for me to notify others. After six years I don’t remember exactly what I said on those phone calls. Honestly, I didn’t remember the words I said right after I said them.

A hard, awkward, or unexpected encounter can leave us at a loss for words. And, because silence tends to magnify the awkwardness, we often blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. I’ve written before about things people say that aren’t helpful https://alightformypath.com/2022/05/16/things-people-say/. Most people are well-meaning. Some immediately jump to trying to fix the issue or solve a perceived problem (me, right here – guilty). Some want to change the subject because it’s painful and embarrassing. They don’t want things to become emotional.

So, what do you say when you don’t know what to say? How about: “I don’t know what to say”? You can throw in I’m sorry, I’m here for you, I love you. Or just give a hand or a hug.

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… , that is a friend who cares.

Henri Nouwen

Some things are just. too. hard. They defy words. They break our hearts wide open and take our breath away. But, you know, if you have a heart; if you are sensitive to the feelings of others; if you reflect the grace and mercy and compassion of our Lord, His love will shine through you without your saying a word.

What more can I say?


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