My phone rang at 3:30am, “Dale, I have very bad news.”
As I dressed in the dark, trying not to disturb my wife’s sound sleep, my heart raced in the anticipation of entering into an environment of pain that someone I loved dearly was battling just a few miles away from me. As I drove through the darkness on empty streets, my mind played out what I would say, how could I show my love when I entered that room? I arrived at the hospital and parked my car. I had no idea what I would say, or do.
I prayed, “Lord, be with me.”
As I entered that sanitized and cold feeling room, she looked at me through her water-filled eyes, her eye make up streaming down her face, with an expression of pain that filled the room. Her husband of 55+ years was laying just feet away in a hospital bed, lifeless. I had just entered into one of the most intimate and painful events of her life, and she was looking at me with an expression of expectation. This was something I had never experienced before. What words could I offer? How could I bring some grand theological perspective into this situation?
I had nothing.
I said nothing.
I looked at her with the great sorrow I was feeling and I wrapped my arms around her and then she began to wail. Her frail elderly body was almost limp in my arms, the pain of losing her husband was more than she could withstand. I quickly discovered that she wasn’t looking for answers in that moment, she was looking for the space and opportunity to reveal her pain.
A few months later, long after the funeral, she came up to me on a Sunday morning and she grabbed my hand, looked at me square in the eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you for letting me cry. Thank you for not being theological in that hospital room. Thank you for just being there with me. It’s one of the sweetest moments of my life with Jesus.”
Little did she know that I thought I had failed her somehow. I didn’t have anything to say that helped her in her moment of crisis. But, I learned something very important as she affirmed my non-verbal response – sometimes there are no words. Sometimes, the pain just has to flood the room, even to the point of feeling like you’re going to drown. Of course Jesus was with us that night – He heard and answered my small prayer in the car. He was in that room with us, even as He ushered my old friend into His presence. As it turned out, He was who she needed that night, and through my silence He spoke to her in a way that only He can. That was enough for her and it was enough for me.