But there are times when words do fail us. They can fail us when we are overwhelmed – by awe, by joy, by generosity, by tragedy and by grief – by emotions that are more powerful than words can express.
In the tragic circumstances of Peaches Geldof’s unexpected death her father Bob poignantly described the family as being “beyond pain” following the news*. I think I can understand what he is saying. I think it is a ‘words fail me’ moment.
So what do we do when words fail us?
First of all I think we should give up trying to find the words. Let the silence speak.
Secondly I think we should embrace the emotion. Accept that this is how we feel.
Thirdly I think we should take time. Don’t feel the need to hurry to words.
Fourthly I think we should find those who will sit with us and not feel the need to impose words on us either. People who can embrace the previous three concepts, people who will not feel awkward with silence.
The book of Job in the Bible helps us to explore how to respond in tragic circumstances. It teaches us what not to do: Job’s friends try to explain, rationalise, and apportion blame for all that has happened. And it teaches us what we can do – this is from the end of Job 2:
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathise with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognise him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
We need people who will sit with us in our circumstances. Friends and family who will simply accompany us while we are unable to articulate our emotions. People who will weep when we weep and rejoice when we rejoice.
Let’s not assume that words are always the answer. Let’s not assume that we have to offer an explanation for everything. Let’s not assume that someone is asking the questions we have. Let’s not assume that God only inhabits words – he is also present in silence, in hugs, in tears, in companionship… in us.
When words fail, let our actions speak louder than words.
Be blessed, be a blessing.
*Pray for grieving families: especially those forced to conduct their grieving in the glare of public interest. You don’t have to use words.