What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say


The phone rang before the end of our first service.  It was Susan.  Her husband had just passed away after a brief fight with cancer.  From the time that he learned of his cancer to the time of his death was less than 2 weeks.  It was an aggressive type of cancer and he did not find out about it till it was too late.  He was only in his late 50’s. The family was shocked and devastated. Susan said that she just wanted us to know about it.  I thanked her for calling and told her I was on my way there.  I had no more hung up the phone than I began to question my decision to go.

What I would say?  What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one so quickly with little warning? Being raised in the church I had heard some real dumb things said at moments of crisis.

Do I pray or pray and read scripture? My mind was racing as I made my way there.

On my drive to the hospital there were two verses of Scripture that came to mind.

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”
Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.”
Proverbs 10:19 NRS

I knew I did not need to say much.

Saying less is always better.

The story of Job in the bible is a great example of this.  After Job’s life was turned upside down by the devil his friends decided to go and visit him.  What did they say when they got there?  Not a word.  For 7 days they sat with him in silence.  Job needed someone to be there and offer comfort in his time of need.  He needed someone who would pray for him and be there when he felt alone and alienated by God. Job’s friends went wrong when they began talking.  When they decided to figure out why all of Job’s suffering had occurred is when they showed their ignorance.

It was not my job to help Susan and her family understand what had happened or to answer for God. I did not understand or know what God was thinking. My role is to be there and offer comfort in their time of need.

When I arrived I introduced myself to the family and said a short prayer for them asking that God would be with them during their time of loss.  Pastor Daryl Blank, my mentor and boss at the time had instructed me to let people share during their time of need.  So I asked the family, “Tell me what you remembered about John?”

For 20 minutes the family replayed the events of their life and the effect that John had on them.  They laughed and cried as they told stories about days that had gone by.  I heard stories of John that I never knew about.  Something happened in that room at Skyline Hospital that Sunday afternoon which is difficult to put into words.  Through the telling of the stories God came in the hospital room with us.  We were not alone.  He was there also.

It is hard to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.

Let me suggest what Proverbs teaches us.

Don’t say much.  Let your words be few.

Be there in their suffering.  Don’t let your own fear’s or insecurities about the moment drive your conversation.

God is there and you can be also.

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