When Words Don’t Work

When Words Don’t Work

April 21, 2017

“Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” Job 2:13 (NASB)

Devotion Graphic

A few weeks ago, a doctor told me I’d probably lose my big toe as some uncommon benign process had done damage to my bone. While I’m grateful to have other solutions now, imagine my dismay the day I received that worst-case scenario.

I cried a lot and felt overwhelmed at the thought of amputation, the reality of rehab and how my life would make room for healing. I didn’t have words.

But right in the middle of my attempt to process the early prognosis, a longtime dear friend told me she wanted to stop by. She told me she wouldn’t stay long, but she just wanted to visit with me.

My friend arrived at the door, brought a chair into the bedroom and sat. She didn’t try to offer words of comfort or some super spiritual word of encouragement. I’m so glad because I’m not sure her words would have worked. She made it clear she just wanted to be there and support me with her presence. This friend acknowledged my pain without focusing on it. We laughed a bit, and she let me cry a bit too.

Sometimes life delivers news that knocks the wind out of us, and we just don’t have words — for our pain or for the pain of others. And here’s what I’ve learned: Words matter, but sometimes our presence matters more.

When Job experienced great tragedy in his life, he had three friends who came to visit. They came intending to sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11) But when they realized how bad things were, they mourned with him then sat with him in silence.

“When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” (Job 2:12-13, NASB)

The beautiful thing about Job’s friends is that they were friends of action. They looked out for him and noticed he was hurting. They came to Job without him having to call them to attention. They didn’t start out attempting to fix his problems but chose instead to simply be with him in his despair.

They acted as friends, even though they were speechless. They joined Job in his active grief but didn’t say a word. There was nothing to be said. They understood the value in the companion of silent presence. They were willing to mourn with him, mingle their tears with his and offer quiet comfort.

It’s only later that Job’s friends make things worse when they tried to use their words to explain Job’s troubles. In fact, only in their attempt to explain the pain did his friends earn their reputation for being insensitive, heartless and cruel.

But we can learn from their first response. Job’s friends came and sat with him in a demonstrable way to show their support without offering a solution.

And this is what I noticed about the beauty of my friend sitting with me.

Her presence mattered.

My toe.

Maybe someone’s breast cancer diagnosis or chronic fibromyalgia.

My rehab.

Maybe someone’s recovery from divorce or from financial troubles.

My adjustments.

Maybe someone’s new baby, empty nest, lonely heart or journey through grief.

We are a culture driven by what we can do. While doing has its place, let’s remember that “being” — our presence with someone we care about — carries importance as well … even if we don’t think we have something helpful to say.

Sure, sometimes we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing at all. While our intentions are real, in lieu of grand gestures we don’t act because we’re unsure if our actions actually matter. We discount the beauty of “being there.”

My friend’s presence reminded me that it’s okay if you can’t “fix it.” It’s perfectly fine if you don’t have a solution or can’t provide the perfect answer. Proverbs tells us that sometimes words just don’t work.

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19, NASB)

Even counselors know sometimes the best thing to do is simply sit and listen. You don’t always have to have the right word to say or know the perfect thing to do. When words don’t work, your presence alone can be both a personable and poignant way to show a hurting friend you care.

Dear Father, help me see others who are hurting. Help me respond in a way that serves them and honors You. Give me words when words are a help, but help me be there for others when my presence is what they need most. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (NASB)

1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (ESV)

We know how hard it is to choose love in the midst of everyday life …especially if we don’t feel the same kind of love back. That’s why we’re releasing our new Listen, Love, Repeat collection — to remind you to choose love, even in the most difficult-to-love circumstances. In a world full of hurt, will you choose to listen, love, repeat? Shop here.

Encouraging others is something we all can do. Click here to download a free printable Chrystal has made available to inspire you.

Has someone ever been present in a way that helped you during a hard time? How did that encourage you?

Who needs your presence more than they need your words? How can you make yourself available today?

© 2017 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.

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  1. I heard someone put it this way–you can be the stake that holds up an overwhelmed tomato plant.

  2. This message was like a salve , that sooths a burn, it put a great form of love in beautiful healing words!!i loved it!!

  3. Very well said. Presence does matter more. Thank you for this!

  4. Amy McGraw says:

    I have a friend going through a very difficult situation and I have no words so I really appreciate this. It’s good to know that my being there for her and with her is enough. Thank you for this insight and encouragement 💗

  5. Well said! I guess Job’s friends did something right! I have been blessed by the presence of others also. It just feels good to not have to be alone.

  6. Sarah Morgan says:

    I’ve had people be there for me recently. Some people might think it’s something small for what gets me upset/sad, but others know I am a highly sensitive person,so it does bother me.

    Right now, I have a friend who I went to high school with. One of her daughters has cancer. 2 brain tumors. One was operable and she had surgery already. The other..inoperable. it was stage 3. Last night found out that within 3 weeks it doubled in size and now stage 4. She just started aggressive treatment yesterday. She’s only 10 years old.

    • Sarah, I hurt for your friend and her daughter. I will keep them in my prayers. May God bless them and heal this little girl, give them strength and courage and may He give you peace 🙏🏻💜

    • Prayers for you, your friend, her daughter and entire family.💕

    • Praying for this sweet little girl and her family..and for you Sarah

    • Sarah, my heart breaks from your friend and her little girl. Lifting them up in prayer for miraculous healing, full recovery, strength and peace as they lean on God.

    • Sarah, my heart grieves too. May the Holy Spirit whisper words of love and encouragement to all of you. May you feel the warm embrace of our Savior’s healing power and the fullness of God’s love. I will be praying for you as sit in love without words. It’s so good to know when we don’t know what to say, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

    • I’m so sorry, Sarah. I will be praying for you and your family.

    • Jazz Stephens says:

      Take this devotion and let it guide you on how you can allow your presence to minister to your friend. We can pray with words and God hears our prayer to bless others but our presence with others blesses you and them. Take it easy.

  7. I have a friend that has been battling cancer for several years. Through the hills and valleys she has always been the encourager and always reflected and given thanks to God. She’s a walking miracle as well because according to her doctors and the fate of the majority that have faced these same battles, she is still here, still fighting the good fight. Through the busyness of life we grew apart. We still saw each other on occasion at our husband’s mutual company functions and kept in touch via social media. During this time I had continued to pray for her (she asked everyone to pray for the Lord to give her “more time” not to be cured) and through her posts and others tried to stay aware of her current condition. Recently I learned they had called in hospice, the first time it’s been required.. Although I had recently had some direct communication with her through text messaging I have not seen her personally for a couple years. I have been struggling with what to do….should I go see her and if I do what would I say? Our heavenly Father answered this question through your devotion today. Thank you!

  8. So true and beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I agree that our culture is more based on what we do, as opposed to simply “being present.” Nowadays, it seems that life is so fast-paced that it’s hard to imagine anyone sitting with a grieving friend for even a couple of days, let alone seven days. But the power of presence is sometimes just what we need. God’s presence is very powerful. Perhaps that’s a good starting point, to sit quietly with God and find rest. Then extend to those around us.

  10. This devotion is perfect for me today. Thank you so much for posting it.

  11. Katherine MacDowell says:

    I was diagnosed with Lupus Encephalitis coupled with Lupus Anticoagulant (its clotting disorder) and a host of other things that started to go wrong as Lupus began to take over my body. Most recently I was in the hospital 5 times between December and March. At the end of one hospitalization, I suffered a dissected artery in my neck on top of a mild heart attack. My good friend came with a tiny orchid (my favorites) and sat on the bed with me and just sat. She let me talk as much as I needed to both about what was happening and the host of other subjects I wanted to discuss to help distract myself, which she joined in with me. My mother-in-law came another time with my father-in-law while I waited in the ER on Christmas Morning and said to me. “I’m here, now what do you need me to do to get you what you need in here”. When you are isolated in a hospital ER and all the nurses are running around taking care of other equally sick or worse cases you get lost in the sauce and you start to feel scared and powerless to do even the most basic things for yourself (like go to the bathroom)–she said the best thing for me in that situation, because now I had a messenger. I think when we are faced with crisis it’s good to take an assessment of what might be needed. I needed a listener and a distractor in one case and a messenger in another. The other day I cried on the phone about death and dying with my best friend who listened and then reassured me that Jesus would be there not some desolate place I was imagining and terrified of. And it felt good to be reminded of Jesus’s presence in that moment and to be allowed to cry it all out rather than being told “you’re not going to die” coz let’s face it we all are and I’ve had a lot of near misses and am in the process of preparing lots of documents of what to do with me if I am so ill I can’t speak etc. In short, what we need changes and beingness is also about attuneness — tuning in through being full present to get what needed for your loved one or even just someone you randomly meet who starts talking to you and is looking for support. LOVE today’s devotional and praying for the best outcome for Chrystal Evans Hurst!

    • I love your mother-in-law. I think people forget how important an advocate is. Especially when you are so ill yourself. I am so glad she was there for you. I will keep you in my prayers.

  12. Diane Reese says:

    Thank you for this today. My brothers wife died Monday. We just got into town last night and I’ve been feeling helpless not knowing what to do or what to say. She was only 57.

    • Diane, I pray that God will give you the strength to assist in His way during this time of grief for your family.

    • Diane, I will be praying for you too! May the God of peace permeate your heart and spread over into others who need His love and comfort.

  13. sherie robinson says:

    I thank you for the uplifting words you spoke. I thank God for your testimony. You have no idea how you have help me today. My father has been ill for quite some time and to see him on his bed of affliction unable to do anything for himself becomes very overwhelming for him as well as for his family and friends at times. This great man in the physical sense now seems helpless from the natural eye. Sometimes, i just sit there with no words to the point tears flood my eyes. But I know God specializes in healing. We’re (his family) trusting in God to do what He does best in our lives and In My Father’s life. Father in the name of Jesus have mercy and let thy will be done. This is my prayer in Jesus name, Amen

  14. Silence is the best healer…when goodness seems absent..Being an extra sensory person I sense good and evil..Sometimes I come in contact with more more evil than good. Having a heart for the things of God it bteaks my heart. Im learning to pray though evil

  15. Clay Parton says:

    That was soooooo good…maybe the best piece I have read or heard on the topic. Chrystal, you are a blessing. Peace of Christ! Smiles

  16. As a hairstylist I need to be reminded that it is sometimes best if I just listen and pray for my clients instead of trying to use my words to help/comfort them. This is perfect timing for me today…as God’s timing is always perfect!

  17. Thank you for the beautiful reminder

  18. “Lo, I am WITH you always….” #promisesofGod #bewith

  19. Thank you for the reminder! I was having coffee with a friend when she received a call from the doctor to come back in because they found something in her breast. She is a 15 year breast survivor, so this was really scary for her. I didn’t know what to say. I just let her cry and talk to me. I felt so bad because I had no words, but offer prayer. I’m thankful that I read this. Thankful to know that it’s ok to just listen.

  20. What a great reminder today. Transgression is unavoidable where there are many words. Now that’s food for thought. I’m a fixer; but I’m trying to let God teach me to be a better listener too.

  21. Thanks, this was so needed and good to hear this morning. Just wish a few more of my friends practieced this.

    • Kelly, I think I understand your heart. I was just thinking something similar. But perhaps it’s just that I’m so good at hiding the pain that no one realizes I need comforting. Hugs to you.

  22. This is good! And just what I need today. It’s difficult waiting for God’s answer, especially when pain is involved. Read this with tears in my eyes as I could feel God speaking to me. Thank you Crystal for your faithfulness.

  23. Back in my early twenties I needed urgent gallbladder surgery and I had no family around. My friend came and stayed with me and just sat at my bedside without really ever saying a word. It was awesome!

  24. Sherrod Hart says:

    My husband is a source of strength when I am sick or deeply troubled. He prays for me and just sits with me during the hard times and sadness. That strength is from the Lord and he imparts it to me when I need it.

  25. So so timely. I struggle with living in a time and culture where busyness is somehow considered a virtue and there’s no room to breathe or sit still. I’ve been going through a rough time and it has been hard to find people who are willing to sit with me long enough and not try to fix anything. It’s definitely a gift to have friends in your life who’d be willing to do that for you.

  26. Christina Gabriel says:

    I enjoyed this devotional.
    Thank you.

  27. I so needed your words. Thank you. I have been dealing with some major issues for the last 3 months and while I keep thinking the world is falling, its not. God has this. Thanks so much for your ray of sunshine

  28. Amen. I agree sometimes we want to help, and do good things for the Lord. But the truth is “its is finished”! It is already done we just need to be that light to those who are in dark places.

  29. I needed this. thank you!

  30. Amen. I am blessed through your devoton

  31. Lori Whiteley says:

    My Dad just died. A hundred people asked me to let them know if there was anything they could do. How do I let them know I just need to sit and cry with them?

    • Merle Nursten says:

      I am so sorry for your loss and heart ache Lori, I can identify with you completely as both my parents died. People can be unpredictable and strange around situations that may be uncomfortable for them and they don’t know what to do. Its just human nature and I would encourage you to ask God to send you someone to be there for you…in other words its time to lean on and trust God because the chance of us mere humans getting this right is slim. My heart goes out to you! Xx

  32. Merle Nursten says:

    I am in a programme at the moment that puts me in this position a lot and I thank God that I am approachable and people feel they can come to me. I do battle to just listen some times but the hope and or desperation in them for answers makes it hard. I also battle to share Christ them full on because some just want to flee when they hear the word God. But i do pray that God knows and will perhaps use my life and testimony as an example. Right now I’m kind of feeling like I need someone to just sit with me…I’m battling!! And for some reason everyone thinks I’m fine and just keep coming. I need to pray for strength I think to keep going. Feeling very lonely at the moment.

  33. Melanie Walker says:

    The truth expressed in this devotion is so good and important for people to know!

  34. Sometimes it’s the words we don’t speak that say the most. Hugs and tears without words are also very powerful.

  35. My next door neighbour passed on about a week ago. It was a rude shock as we still saw him the day before. I did
    didn’t know how to comfort his widow because they were both inseparable. Also being from another culture I didn’t know if my gesture would be appropriate. I made some finger snacks and took it over, explained that her visitors could have them as her house was constantly filled with family and friends. I don’t know if I made a difference but it felt better than not doing anything.

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