I’ve always been close to the guys I grew up with in a small Western Kentucky town. I realize that more of us develop their most cherished relationships with people they met in college as opposed to high school. But that’s not the case with me. Maybe it was the rural, agrarian lifestyle that makes my hometown friends and I so kindred. Maybe it’s the fact that, typical of a small town, the lack of new additions made us more like brothers than friends. That is, we were stuck with each other and had to learn how to love one another because of our flaws, not despite them.
Just last week the mother of one of these “brothers” passed away. She had struggled with cancer for the better part of a year. She refused all but the most basic treatments; instead choosing to pass this life on her own terms. It’s no surprise that as gracefully as she died, she also lived. For my own part, I just remember how welcome she made me feel any time my life took me through their living room—a welcome respite for a child of divorce. There was an overwhelming sense of warmth associated with the home she built as well as the family that lived in it.
So another friend and I drove to the service from Nashville. It was nice. We sang hymns and listened to several people pay tribute to her. When the service was over we filed out into a receiving line to meet the family. I knew the step-father but that was about it. My friend was one of the last people in line—a wait that must have taken more than an hour.
When my part of the line finally got to him, although I had prepared in my mind what I thought were wonderful words about his mother’s legacy and what she meant to me and how sorry I was to see her go, I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t muster a word. Which is ridiculous since words are pretty much my business. But in that moment I realized that, really, I had nothing but my presence to offer; that whatever words I might conjure would diminish the sentiment I wished to impart; that ultimately I actually contributed more to the moment through the things left un-said.
There will be times during our small-group meetings and in the lives of our small groups when silence happens. Speaking from experience, there is the strong inclination to fill those moments with … something. Anything. Like I said, words are my business. And sometimes that’s appropriate. But there are also times of silence when the silence speaks more plainly and with more weight than any and all of our words. Of course we won’t always know which is which. But I think the point here is that when true redemptive community is at work, the perceived need for words should come under greatest scrutiny. And it’s more than OK to let the moment speak for itself.