Learning the work of words in comfort

“Some things words can’t change.”

The seasoned pastor stood at the edge of the eating area. The tables were full of people processing their grief with fried chicken and green beans almondine and fruit pie. Stories were laid on the tables with dinner rolls, and the salad was dressed lightly with the oil of hesitant laughter.The death had been difficult, the funeral as grace-filled as was possible. And now it was time to breathe a bit.

“Some things words can’t change. But words are all we have. So we keep doing what we can.”

I’ve struggled often with the inadequacy of words in painful moments. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, the cliche, the quick misapplication of the Biblical sentence, out of context, out of tune. Some people have no fear of that, of course. They are quick to speak without thinking.

Between these extremes of silence and blather, there may be a place for painstaking, pain-acknowledging, pain-absorbing words. Words that don’t fix anything, but provide stepping stones in the deep, turbulent streams of grief. A funeral can be quiet, but it can’t be silent. “What do we do now?” cannot be left unanswered, no matter how inadequate the very best answer feels.

So there is a place for seasoned word-workers, as careful of the fine grain of a grieving widow as a cabinetmaker working with rare wood. They are wise enough to know that well-enough often cannot be left alone, that comfort, however unfulfilling to the gaping hole in the heart, does help time pass.

“And presence. Never underestimate the value of presence.”

The word-worker had spent time with the family in pain, knew the now-missing person. When he offered words they carried the weight of hours, of relationship. And with that, the truth is clearer.[1]

  1. Deep thanks to Bill Lepley who spoke these words at Grabill Missionary Church in 2014.


Before You Walk In Copyright © 2021 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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