Articulate Silence

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My close friend, Kip Jordon, was dead. He was a man just a few years older than me, and his ailing liver had simply shut down. His family rushed him to the hospital, but in only a few hours, he was gone.

The next few days were filled with hurried plans of shocked and disbelieving friends. “How could this be?” we kept saying to each other. “How could this have happened? Not Kip. Not now.”

Our family made arrangements to fly to Dallas for the funeral service. Although we didn’t know what we’d say to these lifelong friends, we couldn’t wait to see Kip’s wife, Kathy, and their two sons, Kelly and Karl.

On Sunday afternoon, we were reunited. And although there were many things to be said, we actually said very little. We held each other. We wept openly. We stood silently by while other dear friends did the same. And then we came home.

During the next several weeks, we talked to Kathy. She thanked us—and all the others—for taking time to come. She thanked us for our prayers and our presence. But amazingly, we had spoken very few words to console her at the funeral.

Job’s friends heard about their comrade’s bad fortune. Unlike my friend, Kip, Job was not dead, but his turn of bad fortune was about as close as a man could come to death—and everyone knew it. So they visited him. The Bible tells us that for seven long days, three men sat on the ground with Job and didn’t speak a single word. 

Could these friends have said anything to Job?  Did they have any “helpful” advice to share?  Even if they did have something to say during the first moments of his suffering, they didn’t. Not once did they divulge any of this wisdom. So did Job feel supported and comforted by these men? Was he grateful for their friendship and their articulate silence?

Yes. Yes. Three times yes.

In many ways, knowing what to do with the pain of a friend—or sometimes an entire nation—is more difficult than knowing what to do with your own suffering. Sometimes verbal advice is in order. But other times, silent presence is enough.

The next time one of your friends is in trouble, try simply showing up. Take their hand, offer a prayer on their behalf, and don’t worry if you don’t have any advice. Don’t be concerned if the words you try to say about their loss or pain are bumbling and awkward. Just being there, loving like Jesus loved, will probably be enough.