I Don’t Know What to Say!

There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.

You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?

They ask you to come over… what will you say?

You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?

What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.

At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.

No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.

The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.

Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.

As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.

So, what will we say?

Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.


Originally posted on “Church Set Free


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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18 Responses to I Don’t Know What to Say!

  1. gaustin00 says:

    I love that phrase “ministry of presence” and that is exactly what one needs in times of grief and sorrow. The insensitivity of the disciples always boggles my mind. What is wrong with them, what is wrong with me?????? It is that they and I still have an earthly perspective, not an eternal one. That is what I need to remember as well if and when someone calls me but it is also “my” lack of compassion that uproots me and needs to be uprooted for more often than not I tend to speak before listening, speak before thinking. Oh, this is such a great reminder that I would have the “ministry of presence” and not the opposite.

  2. Pingback: I’ll sit with you in the dark | Just me being curious

  3. Melissa Presser (formerly Esquire) says:

    Love this

  4. Liz says:

    More is said through actions than words.

  5. Cate B says:

    Very good Don. Powerful words. ❤️

  6. Kitsy says:

    Don, reading your message brought my brother to mind; my brother has been (and continues to be) my rock on earth. For reasons known only to God, my brother is the only human who just listens to me. If he has the time (and he often calls while driving to a job because he has the time then) he will let me talk…about everything. I can vent, cuss, whine, cry,… He may be working on his computer while I talk, but he is still listening; I know, because he will comment and reply if it is appropriate. He never says that I should or shouldn’t be doing such and such or that I shouldn’t be saying such and such. He ocassionally says that he has no appropriate response to some of the stupidity or hardship I have received at the hand of others that I relate to him. At the end, he may make a suggestion or remind me that it is better now than it was this time last year or point out that I am stronger for whatever it is I have endured. But he reminds me that he loves me and that he appreciates what I do for family, neighbors, etc. He takes me seriously when I talk about some of the malicious hacking I have endured and gives me reasonable and sensible suggestions. He never talks down to me and in fact points out that he is only a little below me in the intelligence department. He listens when I talk about things scientific, spiritual, technological, or about business. He often follows my suggestions and has told others that he no longer doubts the validity of climate change data and that it is because of the part I played in developing the programs to gather, quality control, and analyse the data. (He actually respects me for it …and for other aspects of my life…and this is making me cry as I write this because respect and accepting my credibility is something I have rarely experienced in my life.) He never hangs up on me or rolls his eyes (as so many other have). He never ignores my phone calls (unless he is in a meeting or fishing…and even then he calls me right after or sends a text that he is fishing and will call later.)

    I am extremely grateful for and proud of my brother. He lives as a disciple of Christ without ever making that his goal. He just lives it. He is ‘Good People’ supreme. He is wise and takes every opportunity to make a less than good situation and turn it into a constructive opportunity to improve someone else’s outlook, treatment of others, or empowerment…and he takes no notice of it. In fact, he always tells me of these situations with surprise at the outcome.

    I love my brother. He is God’s gift to me and he has saved my life several times.

    By the way, Don, I have deleted all of my blogs. I didn’t see any evidence that I was reaching anyone beyond ‘the choir,’ and I am dropping “off the grid.” My handicapped sister is moving to this area from Alaska and I will be watching after her. As far being an ambassador, I will be doing something else toward those ends. I will continue to receive new posts from about 5 or 6 of you and will stop by on ocassion.

    Blessings and God’s peace,


    • Don Merritt says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Kitsy… the part about your blog that is… but I know the feeling. I’ve almost done the same thing more than once myself. Stop by from time to time if you can; it’ll be great to hear from you!

  7. Cathy Merritt says:

    Bodily presents is an important and almost essential thing for humans. Babies do not always hear us speaking to them, but they know our presence by our touch and our warmth. In times of trouble, most humans want the presence of another person over the volumes someone can speak or the lip service others could possibly give.


  8. That’s true what you say sometimes people just need your company or a listening ear they don’t necessarily want or need to hear anything from you but I’m coming over.
    What i would say if I was to say anything would depend on whether the persons spouse knew Jesus.
    If they did i would focus on the joy of being in a place free from pain, sin and criticism.
    If they didn’t i would try to get them to focus on their blessings instead of their loss n urge them to cherish the precious memories of a shared life however few or many chapters they happened to write in their partners story.
    Definitely a prayer for comfort can cut across all religious affiliations or lack thereof.

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