Should I Say Anything?

say nothing

As I listened to my friend tell her story, I could see the look of worry on her husband’s face. He was reliving the incident with each word. This health crisis which had almost cost her life.

I searched for the words, listening to each detail, and wondered how I could say anything that wouldn’t sound foolish.

But before I could utter a syllable, the woman standing between us interrupted the silence with her own story, one which she obviously thought was a near parallel to one we’d just heard.

I was speechless. I wasn’t sure how this was compassionate or helpful, but I was also keenly aware of the number of times I’d done the exact same thing.

I often think that for every friend, family member, and peer’s trial or difficulty, I have to find a common ground. Because after all, how can I be helpful if I can’t relate?

Sometimes what we mistake as commiserating is actually just focusing the attention on ourselves. Sometimes what we think is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is turning empathy into self-absorption.

Words are not needed in every tragedy, loss, or heartbreak. A listening ear goes much further than rambling mouth.

When in doubt, I turn to Jesus himself. He was the ultimate example of humility and selflessness.

As I thought about what compassion looks like, I came to the passage before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. But before he performs the miracle, he mourns. He shows his humanity and deep love for those who surround him by doing something we only see him do a few places in scripture: He weeps.

While reading this passage, I was stuck by one detail. Jesus’ words are few. He tells Lazarus’ sisters what he’s going to do and how to receive eternal life.

But mostly, he grieves for his friends. His tears show what his words cannot: that when we suffer, he suffers.

Jesus did not simply say he was sorry or tell a story about a time when he experienced a worse tragedy. He felt their pain. He grieved there in the midst of death, even though he knew life was eminent.

In that moment, his humanity was more important than his power. His people needed to see that he was not only God; he was flesh and blood.

1 John 3:18 says,

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth.” 1 John 3:18

Sometimes, a hug goes a lot further than a speech or a platitude. When loss is great, simply being present is often the most comforting thing you can do.

As I reflect on this passage and others in scripture, three questions come to mind. Questions which we can ask ourselves before opening our mouths.

  1. Is this helpful? Does this person need advice or someone to commiserate? Or do they just need me to listen?
  2. Is this compassionate? Is what I’m saying showing love and kindness? Or am I simply trying to draw attention to myself?
  3. Is this the right time? When a person is in the trenches of grief, sometimes he or she needs time and space before hearing words which may seem helpful. Everyone mourns differently.

Above all else, seek wisdom from the One who promises to give it generously to anyone who asks. (James 1:5)

And remember, sometimes saying nothing is the wisest decision we can make.

 

*Linking up with Kelly Balarie & FriendsJennifer Dukes Lee, and Meredith Bernard to encourage and be encouraged. Come join us.

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44 thoughts on “Should I Say Anything?

  1. Thank you for sharing this insight. I do try to have discernment in those times, but not always. Sometimes, they are grieving or in such pain, you feel the need, ” I have to say something, anything”, but not always is it required. Thanks again for sharing.

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    • Betty, I understand. Silence is uncomfortable. I’m learning too and I’m so glad God’s gives us wisdom when we seek him. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. “When loss is great, simply being present is often the most comforting thing you can do.”
    This is so true. Following Christ’s example is the best thing we could aspire to. Often we are at a loss and so do nothing, but being there, being present, can mean so much.

    visiting from #RaRa Linkup

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    • It’s something God’s been laying on my heart a lot lately, Stacy. Because of circumstances in my own life and in friends’ lives also. Thank you for your continual encouragement, dear friend.

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  3. A listening ear certainly does go much further than a rambling mouth. Abby, I have sooooo learned this lesson recently. (Approval addiction attached to words.) Love that you put this on the blogosphere. Go Jesus, go!

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    • Kristi, I always love hearing from you and it seems like God has brought us through many of the same life lessons. Thank you for always being open with your journey. Much love to you, dear friend.

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  4. WISDOM Abby…Sometimes what we mistake as commiserating is actually just focusing the attention on ourselves. Sometimes what we think is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is turning empathy into self-absorption.

    Words are not needed in every tragedy, loss, or heartbreak. A listening ear goes much further than rambling mouth.

    THANKS for a potent reminder!! Blessings and hugs 🙂

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  5. Abby,
    This is right on target. I have found that the fewer words I offer and the more hugs i give instead the better. Topping a story with ones own trial doesn’t benefit the person hurting at all. The three questions you give to challenge ourselves are wonderful. Great truth!
    Love and hugs,
    Bev

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    • Bev, I see that you transferred to WordPress! Yippee! I can’t wait to check out your new space. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here today, friend. I always love hearing from you.

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  6. “When loss is great, simply being present is often the most comforting thing you can do.” When seeing friends suffer, I am often without words to say because words won’t mend a heart or bring a person back. I used to think if I didn’t have words to say that I should stay away, but I have learned my presence brings comfort and that I don’t have to say a thing to show I care. Thank you for reminding me, Abby, that sometimes the wisest thing to say is nothing at all.

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  7. Abby, thank you so much for this. Sometimes I shy away from showing up because I don’t know what to say. Often times I feel guilty for showing up and saying nothing, simply giving a hug or a smile. Platitudes drive me crazy, and I don’t want to offer others something that I wouldn’t want myself.

    This is just what I need to remind me not to shy away, but to show up. #ChristianBlogCommentExchange

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  8. Enjoyed this Abby. There is a lot of wisdom in this piece, Compassion, selfless listening and following Jesus’s way of speaking when it’s helpful are valuable ways of living Christ-like and you did a terrific job in highlighting the need to say nothing at all.

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  9. Your three questions are great, Abby. I recently read an article about listening and it recommended thinking about the needs or expectations of the speaker. Do they want advice? comfort? empathy? Very similar to your first question about being helpful. I realize how often listening to someone launches me off into talking about myself, so I’m trying to grow in this area. Just. listening.

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    • I am growing too, Betsy. It really does depend on the situation but there have been many times when I know I should have kept my mouth shut. Thanks so much for your support, friend.

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  10. A listening ear and a warm touch are sometimes the very best medicine of all. My life, journey and my personality is unique and God has a special way of walking me through…and it isn’t by comparison or doing exactly what someone else tells me they have done. At the end of the day, our obedience and surrender to God are what matter to our Lord. Compassion and empathy are more often felt than heard!

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    • He’s been convicting my heart of this too, Christy. I’m a work in progress but thankfully he’s not finished with me yet. Always love hearing from you.

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  11. Great truth and wisdom you share. You really brought the scripture to life. You gave me a new perspective on some things you shared from the Bible. Jesus weeping and showing His compassion touches me deeply. Thank You Abby for delivering another amazing message.

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  12. Abby,
    Good reminder. In grief-stricken situations those around by way of support are often at a loss of what to say. Thank you for letting everyone that is okay to not say anything because often, we can say the wrong thing. Just being their can be enough. I remember some of “words of kindness” I received from friends when my father passed away. They meant well but some were totally thoughtless and at times painful.

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    • I think silence is uncomfortable for most people but it really is best sometimes. Especially when loss is great and we have no words. Thank you for sharing your thought here, Mary.

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  13. These are very sobering and wise thoughts you’ve shared today, Abby. I had to read this post twice. In the future, when I am tempted to share a story that I think will help to identify, I will ask myself instead, “Should I say anything?” Thank you for sharing and speaking to my heart!

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  14. Abby, yours is the second post I read about keeping silent sometimes. The first was about defending myself, and sometimes we need to just be quiet and let God defend us. And then you remind us that sometimes all people need is for us to be there to listen, or give a hug or cry along with them. Sometimes silence is the best thing we can do. Thank for this reminder.

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  15. I’ve been in similar situations where someone pipes in with their own stories (and I’m sure I’ve done the same! sadly). There are definitely times we need to keep quiet and totally be present for the other person. Thanks for this valuable reminder, Abby!

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  16. Abby thank you for this wonderful post and reminder. I have so been there. God gave me “word” for my word this year so my focus and study has really been geared to how and when to speak and when not to speak.

    Such reinforcement received from our words today.

    Thank you for sharing! Blessings, Jana

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  17. Abby, these are wise words – and valuable questions. There is nothing worse than speaking when you know you should have been listening. I so value your thoughts here. I am taking them to heart. Cheering you dear one – and all the love you are pouring out.

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  18. A touching reminder Abby, “Words are not needed in every tragedy, loss, or heartbreak. A listening ear goes much further than rambling mouth.” That is truth and I’ve been as guilty as anyone at trying to comfort with futile words instead of just loving. Thank you for sharing and for the perfect guidelines you give to help. xoxo

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  19. Wisdom here, Abby. It’s so true – I know I often feel compelled to offer advice or speak some truth when what is really needed is a listening ear or even moreso a heart bowed before God. To be intentional and not speak any more words than “lets stop and pray”. Always blessed to be here, friend. Hugs!

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  20. Hi Abby! Great post!

    I love your 3 check points…

    Is it helpful?
    Is it compassionate?
    Is it the right time?

    Awesome!

    Love and blessings to you

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  21. Had a friend who went through a tragic circumstance, and I remember her saying the same things you have, Abby… “hug me, and just listen.”
    That stayed with me. She would whole-heartedly agree with your post, and would cheer.
    Have a great weekend, friend!

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