Well done is better than well said.
– Benjamin Franklin
One of the most important lessons I have ever learned about being a minister – actually about living a life – came early on. I didn’t learn it from seminary or any book. It didn’t come from a lecture or workshop or counselor.
I was just off the road with my band. It was 1984, and we had started a little what-we-called “alternative worship experience” dubbed “Jubilee!” in the basement of Central Methodist Church. Calling me a newbie would be an understatement. Up to that time, my dominant experience in front of people had been at the piano with a bunch of other long-haired dope-smoking musicians making music. In my entire life, I had led maybe 4 worship services and a couple of weddings.
So I got a call one afternoon that a young woman named Anne, who had been excited about the new Jubilee! start-up had just died. I knew she had cancer, but hadn’t realized it was so far along. So, that evening, I went over to her home and was greeted by puffy-teary-eyed-snotty-nose family members who hugged me and sobbed. I said, “I’m so sorry,” or something like that and came in. I had never done this before. I had been through the death of my father, mother and grandparents; but that was family. Never had I been in a death scene as a “minister.” I had absolutely no idea of what to do or what to say. So I said and did little. Very, very little.
They invited me to come in and have a seat on the couch while the rest gathered around, hugging, holding hands with each other and talking about Anne. I sat there with them for maybe thirty plus minutes, then got up, said “Goodbye,” and went home, thinking what an absolute doofus I had been. Just sitting there silently, holding hands with them, I had offered no words of comfort. I had shared no wisdom. No religious assurances. No scripture. Nada. I was the preeminent incompetent and oblivious rookie. Greenhorn. Neophyte.
The next morning, I got a call from one of Anne’s family. She said, “Howard, thank you for being there last night. Your words meant so much to us. Everything you said was just what we needed to hear. You were a wonderful blessing.” And I thought “What the Hell?” Or probably something more profane. I knew full well that I had maybe spoken 5 words the entire time I was there; and that included “hello” and “goodbye.” I was befuddled.
It wasn’t till much later in my ministry that I realized how little words have to do with assurance. Or comfort. Or solace. Words may be helpful here and there, but the real blessings come from actual presence. Physical presence. Bodies and hands and faces and feet. Right there. Right then. Right now. It was my showing up that spoke the words of comfort. It was my sitting there with them on the couch that voiced “just what they needed to hear.” It was my hugs and hand-holding that enunciated ever-so-clearly the grace and blessing for which grief begs.
Now, having gone through dozens – maybe hundreds – of death visits and funerals… having held one hand of a dying loved one and one hand of wife, husband or child… having offered my shoulder again and again for tears and runny noses… having felt heaves of sorrow roll in like ocean waves, I am utterly convinced that actions do not only speak louder than words, but speak better and more clearly.
Saying “Yes” to life with thoughts, affirmations and prayers is one thing. But saying “Yes” to life In Deed is where grace comes in and opens the door to Deep Magic and Wonder and all that is Holy.