When Words Fail


I’m not often rendered speechless.  There aren’t many times in my life where I can honestly say I didn’t know what to say.  I can usually talk my way through things (though fantastically enough, I can’t usually talk my way out of things), and I’m normally able to come up with something to say in most situations.  Especially in writing.  I’ve had times where I’ve fumbled to string words together coherently in person because I was nervous or upset or (insert excuse here), but I don’t often find that words fail me when I sit down to spill them out.

In the last couple weeks I’ve had a few instances where I’ve found that my words have failed me.  Utterly, abysmally failed me.  And as a writer, a talker, and in general, someone who is fully capable of using words to adequately express herself — let me tell you, it sucks.

But I’ve sensed a common theme.  I’ll give you the examples and you see if you can guess what the theme is before you get to the bottom of the post.

1.  There’s someone in my life who’s been on my heart for a long time, and I’ve been trying to come up with ways that I can be an effective witness, and all of them seem to fall short.  I squander opportunities to have meaningful conversations about Jesus, His unfailing Grace, and His unconditional love, and I let them slip by the wayside — either that or I completely botch them.  I’ve been trying.  And I’ve been failing.

2.  Lately any time anyone has come to me for relationship advice, I have been left pretty speechless (side note:  I don’t know why I strike people as wise enough for this, I feel completely and embarrassingly inexperienced and inadequate in this department, but I’m thrilled to be of assistance where I can regardless).  I do my best, but I often feel like I come out sounding like an idiot.  Perhaps my best angle in this case is to be a good sounding board — to provide the ear that listens really well but doesn’t follow up in speaking — because otherwise the best I can do is guess “well here’s what I think I’d do if it were me,” which is weak anyway.

3.  Recently, someone I know lost a baby mere weeks before her due date.  She and her family are understandably devastated.  I wasn’t able to attend the funeral because I was sick and I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d add more to her life by giving her this stubborn cold that has settled into my chest and set up camp over the past three weeks (I love working with young children, I really really do).  I wanted to express my sympathy to her and her family, but I was nervous about it because if there were ever a time where it would make sense for words to fail me, here would be an excellent example.  I’m sure in this instance words have failed many people and they’ll continue to do so as the grieving continues.

Given that I couldn’t attend the funeral, I wanted to pick up a card and mail it.  I figured that I am so much more well-versed in the written word than the spoken that it shouldn’t be too difficult to express myself in a card.  I spent a solid half hour in the card aisle at Target, just looking for a card that didn’t say something weak like “cherish the time you had together.”  It turns out, Hallmark and Carlton don’t know what to say to grieving parents who never met their child, either.

I found one eventually, and I’ll labour over finding the right words of my own to write inside, but it’s been this process of trying to find words that has made me a wee bit introspective in the past few days — why do words fail me?  They so rarely do.

Let me tell you why I think they have.

Have you found a pattern yet?

It’s been my experience that when I rely on myself, I’m able to accomplish ordinary things at ordinary levels with ordinary efficacy.  Conversely, it’s been my experience that when I rely on God, I am able to immeasurably more than I ever could have imagined.  After all, these words that I’m usually able to pour out whenever, wherever, and often feel I NEED to if I’m ever going to be able to relax… these words and my ability to put them together are a gift from God Himself.  When I try to keep them in my own power, and I try to use what would otherwise be a strength on my own, not trusting the Giver of this gift, of course they fail.  Why should I expect my own words to be the ultimate selling point on how amazing Jesus is.  My faith, and the faith of others, and what we’ve collectively been able to accomplish because of our faith — that should sell Jesus.  And when I rely on my Precious Saviour, the words that need to come out should come.  When I let myself be the vessel through which God speaks, that’s when the real magic can happen… well, not magic, but… you get the cliché.

Relationships are a gift from God.  We’re designed to long to be in them, and they’re designed to give glory back to our Father.  When they don’t seem to be working out how they should, no matter the reason, even if it’s that we aren’t yet where we thought we’d be by now, trusting God can help me have the words to say (if I need to say any at all — I think the point I made above about being a good listener is valid and not at all a cop-out when it comes to this point… I have no relationship experience, I shouldn’t pretend that I know what to say).

And finally — how could my words outdo those of the Great Comforter?  What could I possibly say on my own strength that would be more sufficient than what God could say through me?

If you were reading along and you thought that it sounded like I needed to pray before I entered these situations and be more open to the leading of the Spirit, who will guide me to the right words when and if they’re needed — then you were right.

My prayer this week is that I’m a better listener than I am a talker — both to those who need my words, and to those who don’t.

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3 thoughts on “When Words Fail

  1. I absolutely understand what you are saying. I won’t go into my background (if you’re interesting, you can find it on my blog), but I’ve been writing a blog and a set of books for the last 3 years, and I absolutely can produce no fruit if I do not pray to the Spirit before I write. I struggle, I push, and I plod. Yet, when I simply become the vessel, as you so aptly stated, the words and Scripture flow through me like a living river.

    It is amazing when we surrender and turn everything over to the power and wisdom of God what truly amazing things happen!

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