The Courage to Show Up

Let’s think about those times when you enter those human spaces where, in Paul’s thought, the “sighs [are] too deep for words.”

Roy, let’s name him, was presenting his pastoral challenge to his circle of clergy friends. On a snowy day in February, just as he was settling in for sermon preparation, the word came that Bill Lowery, friend and community leader, had suddenly died from a massive heart attack. Roy rushes to the hospital to be present to the shocked family who look to him for words. Two months later, the heart broken widow commits suicide. Again Roy rushes to the place of death to be present to the surviving sons who look to him for words.

In both situations, Roy spoke of having no “right” words, feeling inadequate, uncomfortably vulnerable, standing, it seemed, naked before a Mystery “too deep for words.” Priding himself as a professional crafter of words, he was lost for words.

You can imagine the responses from his colleagues: “But Roy, you were authentic, not mouthing pious platitudes that discount the anguish and deny the mystery” . . .”You were present with touch and feeling” . . .”You must have invited trust because the sons later wanted time and conversation with you.”

I drove away from this conversation thinking about the courage it took for Roy to show up in such a surreal place, a space extraordinary, corded off from the ordinary, a timeless moment oblivious to the clock on the wall.

I remember—as I suspect you are remembering—the dread in driving to the hospital or home knowing you will be walking into a “sighing too deep for words.” You anticipate expectations you cannot meet. You assume eruptions of feeling you cannot predict. Yes, there will be words, but they must be few and carefully parsed.

But . . . you go.

Physicians go into these holy places with a stethoscope and other tangibles. The nurses, funeral director, and friends show up with things to do. You don’t have much to do. You don’t have much to say. But, and this may be the point, you have much to be.

Being present, representing a “with us” Presence, may be the wordless Word declared that really matters and comforts.

In retrospect, Roy might turn to Paul’s assurance that Spirit is in the “sighing.” “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8: 26)

But let’s not smooth over Roy’s angst: his felt weakness, inadequacy, left to share the sighs too deep for words. I want to honor his courage, and yours, to show up, offering Presence within so much not-knowing.

—Mahan Siler

4 Responses to The Courage to Show Up

  1. Nancy Sehested says:

    Thank you for the reminder that we do have much “to be.” I have many moments of thinking it would be better to have something “to do.” What a remarkable moment of trusting the Mystery to offer our “un-doing” when we are all “un-done” by the magnitude of the sorrows.

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  2. Ben Wagener says:

    Let’see. Today after worship in the foyer,I listened to these stories:
    a woman in shock,having just learned she has stomach cancer. She needed a hug;a father concerned that his grown son is stuck in a job that does not fit his call or training;a father and mother concerned for their teenage son who evidently is not applying himself in school;a shy and beautiful girl celebrating her 10th birthday;a Texas “Ranger” baseball fan celebrating his team being first place;and a elderly woman relieved to discover that her brain tumor had not progressed.

    I went home and soon fell asleep sitting up while watching a NATS and Orioles baseball game on TV.

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  3. Greg Cochran says:

    I echo Nancy’s gratitude in the reminder of “much to be.” I also say thanks for describing the feelings and thoughts of being “on the way” to that place “too deep for words.” I am remind of sitting with a good friend in the wee hours of a Sunday morning as her husband was dying…no words. There I sat, just watching the deep relationship between husband and wife grow even deeper. I was on sacred ground…and all I could do is sit…groan…and just be. I was grateful for the gift I was given at a time I thought I was to be the giver.

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  4. bishopswife says:

    Thank you for putting into words what is so delicate and at times intimidating. Just “being” can be one of the most difficult, yet needed forms of ministry.

    Your blog is wonderful! I cannot wait to share it with my husband who is a youth pastor.

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