When You Don’t Know What to Say

Aug 15

As the elevator doors shut, a hand darted in between and stopped them. The doors slid open, and I saw my college roommate and her mother. “Oh, hi!” I chatted “How was the funeral?”

They got on the elevator, and I pushed the 7th floor button so we could head back to our dorm room. At my question, my roommate and her mother shared a look. I could almost feel her eye roll as she told me, “Sad. It was a funeral. What did you expect?”

I shut up quickly knowing I had done something drastically wrong. We had a long awkward walk down the seventh-floor hall for me to think on it. I opened the door to our shared room and held it for her and her mother to come inside. I darted over to my desk and busied myself shuffling through notebooks and folders for Monday’s classes while my roommate and her mother spoke in hushed whispers.

Soon, her mother left. I would throw out an occasional “Do you want some popcorn?” or “Are our suitemates back yet?” just to test the waters. She mostly answered with one word replies.

I knew she must be sad as her young cousin had just passed away. She found out the week before – from me. Our suitemate, who lived in her home town, got the news before my roommate’s mother found out and could call her. When our suitemate came through our shared bathroom to tell her the news, she wasn’t there. Just me. So, I was put in charge of letting her know. After I told her, she quickly called her mom and headed home over the weekend for the funeral.

When finally I worked up enough nerve to ask what I had done wrong, my roommate let me have it. “My cousin died in a car crash, and I had no clue. So, when you told me, you said it just like that, ‘Your cousin died.’ You could have shown some sympathy or let my mom tell me or something.”

I tried to dig my young self out of the hole where I stood. But there was no use. The damage was done. I hurt her. In my concern for myself (“You mean I have to be the one to tell her?”), I spit out the words like I was giving a weather report and didn’t consider how it would sound. Then when she returned, I asked, “Well how was it?” Not in a hushed calm, “Did everything go okay?” way. Instead I asked like you’d ask someone who attended a wedding, in a “Okay, give me the details” kind of way.

I can tell you this now, as a forty-three-year-old woman, and see the error of my ways. But at nineteen, I was completely clueless. My roommate eventually forgave me, and we moved past it. But God used it to teach me something – what we say is important. And it’s important to say something.

So, as I’ve been watching the news and reading the news feeds over the events that happened in Charlottesville, I’m reminded of the importance of my words. What I’ve learned over the years since that experience, as I’ve walked through the deaths of family members and friends, is the best thing to say is, “I’m sorry. I am hurting with you.”

Instead, we second guess what we say because we’ve seen how people respond on social media, and we are worried we will be attacked. We are concerned for ourselves. But the focus is never supposed to be on us. It’s supposed to be on others.

Friends, people are hurting. They are afraid. They feel unheard, unseen, unimportant. And all of those are contrary to what God’s Word says. God sees us, hears us and we are chosen by Him. We are to treat each other with love and mercy. MERCY!

That mercy should extend both ways. For those who are speaking out and are wondering why their brothers and sisters are silent, show them mercy. For those white supremacists who spew hate? And some of them even claim to be Christ followers – know they are not. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20 NIV) But we must show them mercy, too.

Sometimes showing mercy means keeping your mouth shut. But other times it means opening it up. When you want to say something, and you just don’t know what to say, open your mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I’m hurting with you.” And leave it at that.

Friends, we need Jesus. All of us. Let’s start lifting each other to Him.

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV

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