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There are times in each of our lives when we face situations where we have no idea what to say given the circumstances. Sometimes it is in humorous or comical situations that others don’t find so funny. But, more often than not, these situations are hard. What do I say to my friend who is hurting? What do I say as a response to the hard question I’ve been asked? What do I say that can help bring peace to a situation? I don’t know what to say when __________. You can fill in the blank with your own situation. In this, we can relate to Moses when he objected to God’s call by saying, “I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” We’re going to reflect on this briefly today.

It seems that every time I turn around someone else is dealing with something hard. And people are dealing with things that would be hard at any point in their life or in history generally. These aren’t just hard because we’re still going through the hardest three years socially that most of us have known. So many of us are trying to deal with exceptionally difficult circumstances. And when we come face to face with someone going through such a hard time, it is often very difficult to know what to say. We find ourselves, as the expression says, at a loss for words. With all of the heartache and struggle around us (and in our own lives) how can we respond when we are at a complete loss for words? 

When I don’t know what to say, I like to run away. Or, I fight for words that often end up hurting more than they help. I’ve learned that neither cliche nor comedy proves particularly helpful in the face of someone’s pain. And offering words of certainty is often an even worse option. But what are the other options?

  • At the risk of resorting to cliche, here are some things that may be helpful:
    Be present. Sometimes all we want, when we’re going through difficulty, is to know we’re not alone. We long for a safe place to weep and scream and cry and curse. So when someone else is struggling, we could prioritize simply being that safe place for them. Shauna Neiquest wrote a book entitled Present Over Perfect. I love that title because it is often our fear of not being able to speak the perfect fixing words that prevents us from actually offering our presence - something that can actually help. Obviously, no one person can show up for everyone, but who could you be present with - show up for - today?
  • Be prayerful. I offer this suggestion not in an attempt to be overly spiritual, but in an attempt to be really practical. If we’re afraid about how to enter into a difficult situation, prayer can help to calm us and prepare us. If we tend to be the person who needs to say something and, as a result, is prone to resort to cliche or comedy, prayer can help us remain silent while we a) ask God what we should do while we wait to speak, b) we ask God if there is anything we should say and, if so, what we should say, and c) pay attention to the other person so that we can be responsive to them and their needs. Being prayerful can also remind us that we aren’t present to fix everything or be their saviour. Someone already has that job and they are far more capable than us. With that pressure off, maybe we’ll be freed to better offer our loving presence.
  • Be practical. I admit that as someone who often lives in the world of words and ideas, this is hard for me. I don’t feel I’m gifted in a lot of practical ways. But the primary call of Jesus is to love and love is an action word. Love shows up most powerfully in the practical. How much love does a hungry person feel when they are told someone loves them and is praying for them, but fails to offer them a sandwich? I was challenged to think about this while in an audiobook I’m currently listening to. The book is by Rob Delaney and is called “A Heart that Works.” The book is the story of Rob and his family losing their infant son Henry to cancer. It is not the kind of book you’d find on the shelf of a Christian bookstore. It is a raw and explicit book laying bare the pain he endured through the process of diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately Henry’s death. As it relates to offering practical help for people who are struggling, Rob offers the following (and this is a direct quote):

“Advice to people who have a friend or relative with a very sick kid. Get right up their @$$ and go spend time with them. They’ll kick you out if they need to, but don’t waste their time by saying, ‘If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.’ That’s for you, not for them.” He continues, “Go feed them. Visit their kid. Touch their kid. Hold their kid. And usher them out the door to take a walk. ‘If there’s anything I can do…’ Yes! You can clip my toenails and clean my kitchen while I’m asleep. Why are you waiting? You asked if there was anything you could do.”

I should mention that the author gives this advice while celebrating someone who was exactly this kind of friend. Someone who was present and incredibly practical when there were no words that could be said to make the pain go away. She made a massive difference for them even though the pain didn’t go away. She helped them endure it.

  • Be priestly. While this might sound like a ridiculous closing point, let me explain what I mean. A priest is one who was and is a representative of God to the people - someone who mediates God’s love and grace. While on one hand, we don’t believe priests, as they have functioned, are necessary because we all have access to God, we also believe in something called the priesthood of all believers. That means that we all have the opportunity to mediate God’s love and grace to others. When we walk with each other in difficult circumstances, we have the opportunity to show and share the presence of God in situations. And if we are called on to speak, we need to be extra careful that we are, as best we can discern, speaking the life of Jesus (not the cliches of religion or culture). We can be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus if we enter into those difficult situations in the right way.

Be present. Be prayerful. Be practical. Be priestly. There are four thoughts on how we can walk well together in this world of pain and struggle. But they are just ideas and words unless I and unless you get out there and live them. May God give us strength and guidance as we do.

Just a few things as reminders:

  • Our Covenant Coffee & Conversation is happening after church this coming Sunday. If you’re able to, bring some kind of napkin-friendly snack to share and after the service, we’ll take a few minutes to get coffee or tea and snacks and then regather in our auditorium to talk through some things in preparation for our annual meeting.
  • Our annual meeting, our Annual Congregational Council, will be on March 5, 2023. We’ll start our meeting at 3:30 pm and we’re inviting everyone to bring some kind of meal item to share at a potluck dinner after our meeting. At this meeting we’ll be receiving our financial statements, approving our 2023 budget, and affirming people for formal positions. We will also be asking our membership to help us move ahead toward a building project to make our facility fulling accessible.
  • There are a couple of retreats coming up in May
    • Our Be In Christ Church of Canada Sr. High retreat is coming up on the May long weekend. Brent has registration information for that. If you are a high schooler and would like to go, talk to Brenth. If you make sure that high schoolers who aren’t a part of our church family or otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it can go, you can give money designated towards “Youth” and it will go to offset those costs.
    • Our Be In Christ Church of Canada Women’s retreat is coming up on the last weekend of May. BUT, this event fills up very quickly so if women want to participate in that you’ll need to register when registration opens on March 1.

As we continue through this week, I this prayer for those who are hurting and those who are walking with them.

God of the universe and God of each of us, we hold on to the words of the psalmist:

“O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.”

Because you know the intimate realities of our hearts, you know all of our pain and joys. The things that tend to bring us shame or push us towards fear or the thing that light us up with passion. And God, you know how we often struggle in our finiteness to know how to respond to others. I ask that as we go through this week that you would draw near to the brokenhearted and help us to do that well as your hands and feet in this world. May your presence be known through our presence. When we are at a loss for words, help us to overflow with your love, offering your presence and peace to each other as we each need it. We are trusting in you for the ability to do this when our own strength is running out. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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