It was nothing major, a welt — red and true — received from a six-year-old boy’s impatience exhibited in trying to grab a biscuit fresh from the oven. But even the smallest of burns hurt and teach hard lessons.
He’s taking a shower and feeling the fresh rush of pain that hot water does to raw skin, and if I strain I can hear his daddy talking soothing words to him from the other side of the shower curtain. I know Ben can handle this, so I keep my feet planted and wait for the sound of the shower to turn off.
I keep washing.
The water upstairs stops, and I hear muffled crying from a little head finding a comforting shoulder, and a medicine drawer opened, and then feet hitting each stair. I know he is coming.
And I do what mothers do. I don’t search for a towel but wipe suds on jeans and land on the floor with a thud when a still-wet boy runs into me. I stroke damp hair and rock a boy who is too big, too fast. And I don’t bother to speak. Because I know words can’t take the sting away.
It’s been said to us a thousand times the last month and half in various forms: “I don’t know what to say.” or “I’ve got no words.”
It’s okay; we don’t know what to say either.
This past week, with aching heart, I joined hundreds of people begging God for a miracle on behalf of a friend. On behalf of her husband. On behalf of her six-year-old daughter.
I thought about them constantly and whispered their names to Him repeatedly. I checked my phone regularly for an update and bent on my knees for them each evening with my family with my own six-year-old’s prayers for them seeming so bittersweet that it took my breath away.
And I’ve known it fully to be true when thinking of them.
There are no words.
Nothing to say that can make the situation better for him and their little girl, those whose lives have been turned upside down and whose future dreams have been left scrambled in a heap at their feet. The weight of decisions no one should ever have to consider resting heavily on the shoulders of a weary husband and dad — a family whose anguish most of us could never fathom, and none of us could ever fully understand because their story is not ours.
But a lot of the time people don’t need a sentence spoken at them anyway.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with words.”
On the hard floor in our kitchen, I sat silently with my crying boy. His hurt was not very big, but it was very real.
And he just needed his mama.
He needed my presence.
He needed my simple acknowledgement of his hurt.
And as we sat and rocked and I dried his tears, the sky stopped burning outside. And overhead, the water was running again and a little girl was splashing in a bath.
And in those silent spaces of sitting beside the one who was hurting, and with my own hurts from the hard year weighing me heavy to the floor, I heard it: a little voice singing loudly above us.
And I almost laughed as an off-key child reminded me of a promise in His Word.
“He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
It’s there, in those moments when we, in our fragile human inadequacy, can’t find a comforting voice that we can simply offer our presence, our love, our hurt for them … and Our Comforter will sing into the silence a sacred melody that soothes only the way He can.
Sharon Holcomb Ellis was a beautiful source of encouragement, wisdom, and laughter for me (and countless others) during college. I’m thankful for the hours she invested in me as she advised, listened, took me out to dinner, and even joined me for hours to paint a mural in Shorter’s Martha’s Cellar (and dragging Brad along too). I’m so glad I was able to celebrate their beautiful wedding day with them, and I’m so grateful they made it to our wedding, where they snapped this “selfie” with a friend and a disposable camera. I'm thankful that I knew her; I'm a better person because I did.
We are far away, but we are beseeching the Heavens on behalf of her family and trusting that there are many grappling for a comforting word and offering their presence when there are no words to be found.