There are times in life when emotions run so deep or situations are so critical that words are not enough. I have been with people when they have gone through the loss of loved-ones, been eliminated from a much need job or lost all their possessions. When it happened, it impacted them at every level. In such instances, nothing could be said that would alleviate the pain or restore the loss. If you have ever been there you know exactly what I am talking about. One day, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a reality that was the only thing someone needed at such a moment of truth.
It was a Saturday morning and our church was working in the Schoharie Valley of New York State after devastating floods had hit the region for the second time in two years. Homes, garages, summer camps, bridges and roadways had all been swept away when a storm dumped torrential rains over the area. The disaster relief team from our church went into a particularly hard hit area about 20 miles south of us. I had driven down there a few days earlier and decided we would concentrate our efforts on one specific road in the flood zone that others had not yet gotten to.
When we arrived with our manpower and equipment I began to survey the area for specifically what must be done first. As I walked up the water-washed road, the devastation was beyond anything I had ever seen. Homes had been swept up and carried a quarter mile down stream. They were broken into wet mounds of shattered wood and roofing that lay piled against rocks and tree trunks. Empty, water-filled foundations were above ground where the water had scoured away all that had once been a family yard. Tree trunks, limbs, furniture, appliances, vehicles, window frames, sewage and toys were left in massive twisted mountains on many of the properties. It was hard to take in and even harder to know where to begin.
As I rounded a bend in the road someone who was sitting all alone caught my eye. An elderly woman was down on the saturated ground under a few pine trees that had withstood the flood’s fury. She was staring at a water-soaked picture and a necklace, and both were clutched in her mud-covered hands. It was clear she had been digging in the debris of what had once been her home. As I approached she looked up at me with a dirt-smudged face and deep blue, vacant, tear stained eyes. She silently lifted her hands so I could see the two treasures she had recovered, and then shook her head as if to say, “this is all I have left.. it’s all gone”.
Did I have great words of comfort? Did I quote Scripture or give some other profound bit of wisdom to ease her suffering? No. I sat down next to her, reached out my hands to hold hers, and then I cried with her. I sat in the mud of her life and offered her the only thing I could. I offered her compassion, not words or actions. I offered my time and just sat there with her and listened to her story. I discovered who she was and what she had lost. I learned about the death of her husband and the life they had made in this place after he retired. She was not a statistic, she was a real person who needed me to be there with her in her devastation. Nothing else would do. In the end I offered to pray for her, and in that moment, we were both changed profoundly even though I had done nothing at all.
There are times when no words can speak as loudly as a simple touch or the atmosphere that comes from sharing pure, heart-felt emotions. Until we identify with the pain and suffering of others, we really have nothing to say. Words can be nice, and showing up with a shovel to help can be wonderful. However, at times just being there to listen can be exactly the thing someone’s soul needs in order to carry on. We all have to know one great truth; we are not alone. We need to know that in this broken, cold and sometimes desolate world, someone really cares.
As you go your way this week, look for the one who needs more than words. Sometimes the healing power of nothing at all is just what a hurting soul must have. Take the time to slow down so you can see the suffering of others. Then release the power of silent compassion into that life and watch what happens. It will touch the deepest places of the heart. When words or actions just won’t do, then let the cry of a hurting heart draw upon the only thing that will, and it might just rock your world the way it did mine.