What to Say When There are No Words


“Merry Christmas!”

“Have a wonderful time with family.”

“Enjoy the Christmas Eve service.”

“Make this the best holiday season ever!”

Lots of well-wishes fill the air this time of year. But for some, it’s a sad time. It could be the first Christmas since a loved one passed away. Perhaps relationships are strained within a family. Or maybe a serious illness threatens the future, financial difficulties overwhelm, or losses loom on the horizon.

Maybe that someone having a hard time is a relative or friend you will be seeing over the Christmas season. What can you say when there are no words to make it right?

For us, that Christmas was six years ago. Just four days earlier, on December 21, we learned that our younger son died by suicide on the other side of the world. Now we share some suggestion about what to say and what not to say at our son’s memorial website, NathanW.org (see Facing Grief under Lessons).

About a month ago, I started memorizing “I am” passages in the New Testament. The first passage I memorized was John 14:1-7 which contains Christ’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life …”

As I meditated on the passage, it occurred to me that Christ is giving us a model of how to interact with others who need comfort. The disciples had just felt the rumblings of a fast-approaching storm. Clearly, they were alarmed.

First, Christ acknowledged their terrors. But He didn’t want them stuck there. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled:”

Secondly, Christ reminded them of their faith, “… ye believe in God, believe also in me.”

Then, Christ directed their thoughts to the eternal, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

Finally, Christ assured them of His love and care for them, that He always wanted to be with them. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

When the timing is right, these kinds of words can minister love and encouragement to hurting hearts, just as they did when Christ shared them.

However, this Christmas, your friend may simply need a heart-felt hug. Words, even acknowledgments of the need, reminders of faith in God, reflections on an eternal perspective, or assurances of Christ’s love and presence, may be best left for another time.

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