A time to stay silent and a time to speak. So says Solomon, the wisest man in the world (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
In a recent blog post, I told you about my experience in a hospital ICU waiting room where I learned to bring peace to a tense family conversation by staying silent and invisible. But I started my story by telling you why I was in that hospital waiting room in the first place. Preacher Creature (alias, my husband) had received a call that morning that Frank was in ICU.
Frank is a man in our church fellowship who has suffered multiple strokes. Each time, this amazing man comes back from the brink, maybe a bit weaker in body, but stronger in spirit. Frank and I share a love of the moment and the preciousness of the gifts we have, for we know they are not ours to demand. That’s why Frank and I have this conversation every time we see each other.
Me: It’s so good to see you.
Frank: It’s good to be seen.
Our church family has worried for some time that Frank’s previous strokes were like tremors leading up to a massive earthquake. Preacher Creature and I wondered aloud as we sped the 60 miles to the hospital: could this be the big one?
After my sojourn in the waiting room, Preacher Creature texted me. “It’s okay to come back to Frank’s room.” I swallowed hard. How would Frank and I communicate through the barrier of a stroke?
To my surprise, Frank was awake but uncommunicative. He writhed in the bed, gagging because the stroke had paralyzed his throat muscles. Electrodes covered his upper body and a large bruise masked his face. My better vision than I’ve ever had before showed me the finer details of Frank’s suffering.
Was it good to see Frank, especially like this?
I took his hand. His grip was strong.
“Hi Frank. It’s Karen Wingate.” And then I said it. “It’s so good to see you.”
It was good to see Frank. Despite his changed appearance, I was glad I could see him. He’s special. He was alive. And he was persevering. The man I know — fun, lovable, gentle Frank — was still there, and I was glad I was there.
From the other side of the bed, Frank’s wife said in a wistful voice, “He can’t respond to you like he usually does.” She knew about our special interchange.
I looked up, tears in my eyes. “Oh, but he is responding. He’s smiling and he’s squeezing my hand.” I repeated my part of the script and the smile grew.
Don’t hold back
For too long in my life, I’ve held back saying the things that need to be said. For whatever reason – fear, embarrassment, or insecurity – I’ve hesitated to remind people of the One who loves them most and who gives me the power to love as well. I’ve hesitated to walk into scary places like ICU wards, funeral homes, the path of the homeless, the devastation left by a tornado, the home of the overworked mother, or the heart of the suffering soul.
I’ve hesitated to say those life mattering comments. I failed miserably six months ago to speak words of affirmation to a close friend who despaired of life itself. Ever since, I’ve made the commitment to not hold back. To not care what bystanders might think or worry if I’m stepping beyond boundaries of propriety. After all, it is never out of vogue to be encouraging, to speak peace and truth.
I spoke those words of life to a stranger named Darrell. (See Darrell’s story here:)But strangers are easy because I’ll walk out the door and they won’t see me again. This was Frank, my buddy. But he was a married man and I am a married woman and we never talked about those serious parts of life. We didn’t hold hands or discuss what follows earthly life.
But here I was with my husband and his wife and Frank couldn’t talk but it was still good to see him because I can see and Frank is alive. It was time to speak beyond my fear. Speak the words I have spoken before. Share the joy of the seeing. Revel in the wonder of being seen. Speak from the vault of my heart where I hold all things sacred.
God, give me words and courage to say more.
My mouth opened. “Frank, we love you. We’re rooting for you and praying for you. Jesus knows where you’re at and what’s happening to you. He loves you so much. He’s in control and He’s going to take care of you and your family. You hang in there, okay?”
The smile reappeared. The grip grew strong. Frank’s wife wiped spittle from his chin and tears from her eyes.
Ten days later, Preacher Creature and I traveled back to the hospital. As the elevator doors opened, we almost ran over a nurse supporting a patient with a walker. It was Frank – walking! Frank still cannot talk. He’s learning to speak and swallow again. He’s using basic sign language to get him through. And he’s appreciating even more that it’s good to be seen.
Who do you see?
- The depressed and despairing? You think it not your place to give words of hope? Say it anyway.
- The lonely and abandoned who long for human touch? Even a shoulder pat or a hand squeeze? Be reasonable and respectful. Ask permission. But do it.
- The hungry and sick? Those starved for compassion? Do you have the resources to help? Do it.
- Has someone lost their way, left the Lord of love, or never met the Savior who forgives? Speak the truth in love but dare to tell what they need to hear. Tell how Jesus wants to hold them close, He loves them just as they are, and can make their lives glorious. Don’t wait. Do it now.
Join me, will you?
Let’s move past our reluctance and say what God would have us say. Look beyond the hurt and heartache and see the spirit and personhood despite the external changes. Savor the smiles and hold firm the hands.
A time to stay silent, a time to speak. When the spoken moment comes and God’s Spirit prompts you to reach beyond the normal and ordinary, do it. Let the people you love know you love. Let them know of the One who loves them most, who goes before them, and who will never leave them or forsake them.
Don’t hold back.
Say the words.
Let them know. “It’s so good to see you.”