Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When to Use Words

Why is it that when I want to write, I think long and hard and words barely trickle? But when I speak, words flow too freely, often when they shouldn't flow at all. At least that's the case most of the time.

This past week, the opposite occurred. I went to pay my respects to a family who had lost a loved one, and the words would not come. I didn't know how to sum up the impact of the loved one's life on my own in that short time at the visitation while the line of people behind me grew longer. As the small talk quickly dried up, because it is merely filler to begin with, and the line pressed in, I was thanked for coming. All I could think of to convey my huge heart thoughts was, "He was worth the trip."

In some ways, the tongue-tied-ness fits the situation perfectly. The loved one had made a big impact on my life through his presence, not his words which were mostly few and far between. And there I was trying to show by my presence that his life mattered much.

I think back to those friends of Job and the role that they played in those first seven days. They sat by Job's side without speaking. A ministry of presence. It was when they opened their mouths that things started going downhill.

I am not sure I learned from their example because my lack of words and mere presence didn't seem like enough. I wanted to put words to the feelings I had.

And so I wrote a letter.

I tried to convey that my life was better because I had the opportunity to know this caring man who took the time to acknowledge my presence every time he saw me, spent time patiently trying to correct my golf swing, and loved his family with all of his heart. I tried to pass along how very proud he was of his son as shown by his presence if not by his words. And, above all, I wanted it known I will not forget this loved one.

The words were well received, but I'm not sure they were necessary.

I recall a lawyer friend of mine making a three-hour trip to attend my dad's funeral. She was an assistant district attorney in Houston at the time. The fact that she got someone to cover her docket and that she drove six hours round-trip for a 30-45 minute funeral blew my mind. She hugged me through tears and said nothing, if I recall correctly. Yet, over seven years have passed, and I have never forgoten her act of kindness.

I think a ministry of presence is a powerful thing, sometimes more powerful than words. But I need the wisdom to know which is best in any given circumstance.

[This is my second attempt to participate in the Words Project with Holley & Ann over at A Holy Experience.]


Margie said...

The story about your friend making such an effort to get to your dad's funeral will stay with me a while. It was a perfect example of action speaking louder than words.

I loved this thoughtful post, Alyssa.

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts, Alyssa. And it is a difficult balance, isn't it? Sometimes we can hide behind "a ministry of presence" because we are too scared to speak the words that need to be heard. And other times (for me, especially), I forget that being present (and silent!) is a ministry also . . . and sometimes more profound. Thanks for giving me something to chew on.

michelle said...

showing up always means more than words for me.
it costs more.
but I like words too. and the fact that you can read them over and over.
so i quess i am in the same boat as you.

Krista said...

I love seeing YOUR words again on this screen! "Presence" -- huge. What you did was brave...