The mailman came with a special box I had anticipated receiving for some time. The box contained a prayer guide written by Kay Arthur, renowned Bible teacher and founder of Precept Ministries. It was a prayer guide for a study on the Covenant and, inside the cover, tucked among the pages was a poem I had written and handed to Kay Arthur at a recent conference. I was thrilled when I got her note saying she wanted to publish it in an upcoming prayer guide.
I opened the box carefully, as if unwrapping an infant in a receiving blanket. For a moment I just starred at the contents of the box. The little books were like a kiss from God to me. Affirmation that I was able to contribute something worthwhile to this life at a time when I saw only my worthlessness and confusion. I carefully picked up a book and leafed through the pages, eager to see the printed letters that represented my heart.
Pricked by a sudden urge to call my mother, I picked up the phone. Dan Allender would say that those of us who have known childhood abuse often call people we know will chide us or ridicule our joy because, deep down, we don’t feel worthy of the honor – the accomplishment – so we invite others to violate our dreams, our joy. I wish I had known his words then. I didn’t. My mother answered and I excitedly told her about my poem published in Kay Arthur’s prayer guide. There was a bit of silence on the other end of the phone before her words came crashing in their fullness over me, “Well, you know, real writers set aside a time each day to write.” My heart stopped completely – I’m sure it did because I could neither breathe in nor out. Her words completely rendered inoperable all my ability to inhale or exhale. What does one have to do to be considered a real writer? Doesn’t this publication qualify? It would be many years before I ventured another attempt to publish.
They can hurt or heal.
They can wound deeply or bring release.
It has been a thousand years since that experience. I am no longer that frightened, timid, crushed victim of a girl flung beneath the stampede of another’s words. I am learning the truth about who and whose I am. The wounds of my childhood, in many ways, are healing…but the triggers remain and words can quickly flay the wounds open again.
Recently, I received a letter inviting me to apply for a government job as a psychological examiner. It is a license I worked hard to acquire and sets me apart as a professional who can administer psychological tests (e.g., IQ, personality, memory, achievement) for various entities. I felt a certain sense of accomplishment as I read through the words. My husband leaned inquisitively over my shoulder to also read the words and said flippantly, “They probably sent one of those to every psych examiner in the state!” My heart did not stop this time – progress, healing – but it did sputter. I turned slowly to look him square in the eyes and said, “Your words can rip the joy of accomplishment right out from under me.” He was immediately sorrowful and repentant. He clearly did not mean the words as arrows to wound me – but they did, nonetheless. Even when arrows are pulled quickly from where they have landed, the sting remains and the wound is opened again. Let me be quick to say I have many examples where my words – either intentionally or unintentionally – have also wounded.
There are often times when I long to comfort someone and cannot find the words needed. This was my experience recently when dear friends suffered a devastating loss that has long-expanding ripples through their lives and worlds. It is a loss that most likely will influence decisions and the next steps of close relationships for many months to come. Maybe even years. How does one comfort? What does one say?
I am finding that many times no words are better than some words. Sometimes the very best I can honestly give are gestures that convey deep love and a commitment to pray. I am learning how much value is brought by asking God to speak to the heart of the wounded one in such a sacred space. Yes, sometimes words are given to us that we can impart, but, more often than not – at least for me – there is a caution to practice silence, to communicate care, to respect the sacred space that encircles a tragic loss, and to honestly, earnestly pray.
It is ever my prayer that the “words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable” in His sight…my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Won’t you join me in the sacred silence of prayer for those you love but for whom, in the deepest ache of their present experience, you really have no words? It offers a holiness that cannot be expressed.
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.