I love words. As an avid reader, I love when just the right words are put together to perfectly describe an emotion, place, or situation — putting you right in the midst. I love stretching myself as a writer to try new or unusual words to really paint a unique picture for my reader. But more than that, I respect the power of words. Words can inspire, they can heal, they can uplift and they can make us laugh. They can also wound, harm, and break-down.
When Noah Webster compiled his first edition of the American Dictionary he listed and defined 70,000 words. Today Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged Version) has roughly 470,000 words. Wow! With that many words to choose from you’d think we would never be at a loss for what to say. However, there are moments in life that knock the wind — and words — right out of me, leaving me stunned into silence. And it’s this loss of words, or my inability to find the right words, that causes me to lie awake at night.
Last week I witnessed two dear friends experience hurt, pain, loss and struggles that no person should ever have to face. I lost many hours of sleep worrying, praying, and crying for these friends. In my heart of hearts I wanted to find some nugget of hope or advice, some bit of comfort or healing I could offer. I prayed for God to deliver the right words to me that would give them a tiny bit of peace. But in the end their situations were just too big for my words. I felt anything I might say would be, at best, empty noise and, at worst, trite and cliche.
Not knowing what to say left me unsatisfied, so I turned to scripture for some insight. I was struck by the story of Lazarus’s death. There are a couple of very key moments in this story that helped me to see my role as friend of the grieving in a different way.
First, scripture says that Jesus loved Lazarus. He was not just an acquaintance or the brother of Mary and Martha, he was a very dear friend to Jesus (John 11: 3, 5). Second, Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to die and be raised again. In John chapter 11, verse 4 Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Later Jesus specifically tells His disciples that Lazarus has died. Yet, despite Jesus knowing how it was going to turn out, we are told that when He saw Mary and her friends weeping for Lazarus, Jesus was so moved that He, too, wept (John 11:35).
Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew the happy ending to this story. But that did not lessen the grief He felt when He saw his dear friends hurting. He did not come up to Mary and offer her words of comfort. He did not say, “time will heal your wounds” or “God has a plan, it will all be OK in the end.” No, He wept. Because sometimes the hurt is just too much and all you can do is weep.
Of course, in the end Lazarus was raised from the dead. Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to overturn my friends’ grief. But that’s not really the point. This is not about me or what I can do. It’s about God and what He will do.
Like Jesus knew about Lazarus, I know that this is not the end of the story for my friends. I believe in my heart that God will bring healing and restore happiness to their lives one day. Because “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” (Pslam 34:18). I don’t know exactly when or how it will happen, but it will happen.
Until then, I will offer my love, my arms to embrace them, my shoulders to cry on, my ears to listen. I will not worry about words or saying the “right thing” to bring comfort. Because sometimes even 470,000 words just aren’t enough. Sometimes, the most we can do is stand beside our friends and weep along side of them.