When To Say What You're Not Saying
One summer, when traveling, I stayed with a family who was grieving the death of their daughter. It had been 3 years since their terrible loss, and they were merely going through the motions of the life they once lived. The second night I was there, the mother confided in me she wasn’t doing well. She wasn’t sleeping, there was a disconnect in her marriage, they had stopped observing holidays and visiting friends or family. That’s when I realized just how much it was costing them to open their home to me in the midst of their grief. I heard the long list of “advice and encouragement” that was said to them, from the thoughtless to the cruel and senseless. And it made me mad to hear all the terrible things people had said.
I woke up the next morning with a phrase going through my mind, “say what you’re not saying.” I thought it very strange because I always remind my husband when he is talking to people, “Do not say what you aren’t saying.” Many times, when my husband is explaining something to someone, he will tell them what he is not saying. But when he does it to me it irritates me because it brings something into my mind that wasn’t there before, like when someone says, “I’m not saying you are fat, but are you sure you should eat that?” (Just so you know, he has never said this to me… it’s just an example.) But when he brings words into the conversation that he isn’t saying and I haven’t thought of, I get offended by why He would even say it in the first place. So, when I woke up with the thought, “Say what you are not saying”, I knew it had something to do with our attempts at encouraging others. But this time, unlike all the times I told my husband it wasn’t necessary, I sensed this was the time it would be beneficial to communicate clearly by saying what I was not saying. By doing this, the encouragement I had to offer would not get lost in a story about what I did one time, or advice I gave them. So, I left my room to find my hosts to see if there was an opportunity to say anything before leaving.
I found them in the kitchen making breakfast. I greeted them and waited for the right moment to share encouragement with them by saying what I wasn’t saying to them. My time with them was quickly coming to an end and I knew if it was going to be said, I just had to do it. So, hoping it would come out correctly, I worked my way through a short explanation that would enable me to say what I wanted to say. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t feel natural but I knew I would be sorry if I missed this one opportunity I had visiting with them in their home. I started by telling them a story of how my husband often communicates by going into great detail about what he isn’t saying, and how I tell him it isn’t necessary and can detract from what he is saying. I had a captive audience and I knew they were wondering where I was going with this. So did I. But after I explained my view of “saying what you’re not saying”, I cautiously moved to my point.
I said, “I know you’ve been through a terrible loss and so many people have said all types of things to you, from the well-meaning advice to the cruel, the crazy and terribly hurtful. None at all helpful. As I woke up this morning, I knew I was supposed to tell you one thing, first by saying what I am not saying. So, here it is. I do not know exactly how you feel because I’ve never lost a child. I am not giving you any advice or telling you what to do; I would never attempt to minimize what you are going through. But I know one thing. There is hope! God still has a plan for you. He sees you, loves you and wants to heal your hearts. Hold on, there is hope.” It was very difficult to even say this much to them. They were so wounded and broken, existing in a state of raw grief. But I had to do it before the moment passed, and I drove away from their house. I pray God used it but have no way of knowing for sure. They thanked me, and I thanked them for opening their home to me. Then we said our goodbyes.
I learned so much from this experience. Sometimes you have to bypass the ways YOU would normally encourage, because THEY need something different. It depends if they are in a state to receive encouragement, and if they are, prayerfully consider the best way to do it. Whether it is taking a gift, physically helping in some way or just being there, let’s be sensitive to the emotional state of those around us.
“...Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29 NLT
Blessings, Tami Gaupp