“Sometimes we speak because we don’t like silence, yet often the silence can speak more powerfully and helpfully and our words.”
— Ray Brown (In “Whose Hand Is This?”)
In being the support behind a family having been devastated by a catastrophic stroke, my father-in-law, Ray Brown, the pastor shepherding this family with a life and death struggle, is poignant in speaking about the power of plain presence.
Many harsh and debilitating situations are beyond words, and indeed our wordless presence there is infinitely more powerful when there is no answer to the suffering.
The Power of Plain Presence
We hardly want to believe this—that our presence, many times, is worth more than our words—but God speaks through a silent vessel more readily than when we carefully select our ‘Spirit-filled’ words. This is especially true when suffering is inexplicable, when the frustration cannot be eased, or when there just seems to be no answer.
The power of plain presence is palpable in situations where words fail.
But we can only know this by faith, for our silent presence just seems so useless to us, but to the people we support it is space for lament, as it is the sort of respectful care of a love that discerns unknowable needs (so far as words are concerned).
The power of plain presence, of sitting bedside, or of sipping tea, or of wiping tears, seeks not to heal the soul—because only God could do that, in conjunction with time—but instead it is about the best sacrifice one could make; just to be there.
Knowing When to Restraining Our Words
This seems to be the underpinning message behind the above quote. When we acknowledge that words can “empower and encourage or hurt and damage” sometimes speaking is just too much of a risk, when a humble silence will add its own eternal value.
This is a difficult thing to learn for us extroverts (for I am one) but prudence is wisdom, and where there is pain the intentionality of our words cannot bring healing. If God is to use words through someone like us, it will be inadvertent. We cannot manipulate the action of the Holy Spirit.
Restraining our words may be as simple as praying to God in those moments, “Help me be silent and available, Lord.”
A silent presence can speak louder in terms of care and respect for the vulnerable than our words. Where our words may be fraught with danger, the silence of presence is God’s way of speaking volumes without a single utterance.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Rosalie Leaney, Gordon Leaney & Geraldine Mellet, Whose Hand Is This? (North Fremantle, Western Australia: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999). All quotes used are from page 13.