It was a long weekend. It started Friday night when a husband and wife decided her cancer had advanced to the point where it was time to meet with hospice. Not what they ever dreamed they would be facing at this time of their life. We agreed to come by and visit with them Saturday morning. Early Saturday morning another family at our church texted me. Their 23-year-old son had passed away during the night. So off we went to see them also.
Two horrible, difficult, life-altering events. Things like this happen in all of our church families. After all, we live in a fallen world where sickness and death occur. And sometimes they happen unexpectedly. Or sooner than we think normal. So we Christians show up. We bring food, clean houses, we are there. Even when we are not sure what to say, or even what to do. Situations where there are no words.
Except for the words spiritual leaders are expected to say. Preachers, elders, and their wives have a different expectation from our people in times of crisis. As the young man’s mom said, “I needed you and Marsha to know, but I also needed to hear what you were going to say.” Maybe it is because of our formal—or even informal—position as recognized spiritual leaders. Maybe it is because we have done life together and are looked to for spiritual counsel. But sheep need shepherds. Especially when life falls apart.
So what do you say and do when there are no words?
- Show up. You may be invited. Maybe by the family or someone close to them. Or you may just know you should be there. Presence matters. That is one way you “bear one another’s burdens.” Use the power of touch. Hugs, taking their hands, standing in the prayer circle. It connects. They remember.
- Pray. That is always one thing you can say and do. James reminds us in chapter 5 of his letter that Christians pray when they are in trouble. Ask for God’s peace, comfort, and presence to be felt.
- Speak truth. Sometimes we read Scripture. Often we quote Scripture. Sometimes we just refer to or paraphrase Scripture. God’s word is a light and lamp for our life journey. When you do not know what to say, use God’s words.
Those of us who accept the responsibility of spiritual leadership have high expectations placed on us. But these three things will make a difference.
Be there. Pray. Speak truth.
Steve loves to tell the story of Jesus. He is the Director of Ministry for Hope for Life, a Herald of Truth Ministry, and serves as an elder at the Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, TX. He is a popular speaker for Lectureships, seminars, and retreats, and his latest book is “Can I Tell You a Story?” He and his wife Marsha have two children and five grandchildren.