prayer Uncategorized

I Can’t Find the Words

Lately, there are days when I feel like I don’t know how to write anymore. It’s as if I have forgotten how to formulate coherent thoughts into words and sentences, weaving them together into something that is cohesive and meaningful. It’s not that I haven’t been writing recently. I have. But I haven’t finished anything (with the exception of sermons) in a few months. When I sit down to write, I’m finding it hard to get started, and when I do begin to make progress, I usually need to stop (because: kids, work, other responsibilities, etc). Additionally, the world seems to be moving so quickly that when I pause and return a day or two later, everything I have written seems irrelevant. So, I start again, and don’t finish again, and the cycle repeats. And sometimes I wonder what I even have to say amidst the war in Ukraine, horrific mass shootings occurring with regularity, discriminatory laws against LGBTQ+ persons, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the border crisis, the breakup of the United Methodist Church, systemic racism, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and so much more…

If I’m honest, I couldn’t type that last sentence without crying. It is A LOT, and that list is only a snippet, a tiny percentage, of the pain and injustice, the growing polarization and division, the complete and utter heartbreak that is occurring in our country and in the world. Words elude me to even begin to describe this.

The way I am feeling lately feels similar to something I experienced during my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. While serving as a hospital chaplain during the CPE process is always intense, my situation was unique because one of the long-time chaplains at the hospital where I served was dying of cancer. I was assigned his units to cover, which meant that I spent my days on in the ICU, the oncology unit, and the cardiac unit. Additionally, I spent time caring for staff who were grieving the impending loss of their own caregiver and support person. I was twenty-five years old, fresh from seminary, and it was A LOT. And when it was all beginning to feel like too much, a thirty-two-year-old patient in the ICU was determined to have lost all brain function.

As I approached the ICU to be present with his family, I heard wailing before I even reached the doors of the unit. And when I walked through the doors, I stopped in my tracks. Through the glass walls, I could see the patient’s loved ones gathered (far more than were allowed in the ICU; the room was packed) wailing and weeping and lamenting. I wanted to run the other way. It was too much. But this was my work, what I had been called to that day. When I entered the room, it suddenly became silent. Then, someone asked me to pray. I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t have words. I bowed my head and remained silent as I tried to find the words and instead tears came…for the family, for their pain and grief, for the impossibility of doing anything to fix or help this situation. And I cried with them and for them and eventually prayed something (I have no idea what, because the words did not come from me but from the Holy Spirit) and somehow, whatever I prayed was comforting, helpful, meaningful to those in the room. After I prayed, the mood in the room was different. Individuals began to talk and share, and I listened. But I didn’t say much, and I didn’t need to. I learned that my words were not what was needed; it was my presence that mattered, my willingness to be with them in their worst moments, to cry and lament alongside them.

I guess what I am saying is that I don’t know what to say right now. But I am here. I am crying, even if you can’t see it. I am lamenting, even if you don’t hear it. I am praying, even if you don’t know it.

While some might think this is a cop-out, what I know about myself is that I have a tendency toward productivity and busy-ness, sometimes at the expense of what God is calling me to. I could put in the time to write a carefully thought-out and polished theological statement (and perhaps that will come, in time) but if I did that today, it would be at the expense of what I really need to do: cry, pray, lament.

So, here I am finishing something I began to write only this morning…800+ words about how I can’t find words. It’s probably not well-written. Perhaps it’s just babbling. But it is finished. And it is my offering for today…as I cry, pray, and lament for the world, for women and girls, for those without the privileges I have, for those hemmed in on all sides and lacking options, for those who simply want to live.

*If you want to read more about lament as a spiritual practice, you can do so here.

9 thoughts on “I Can’t Find the Words

  1. Thank you so much for putting into words what I am feeling at this moment. I have not been able to finish the sermon for tomorrow. In fact, the words that keep coming are words that I need to shout out loud to somehow release them from inside of me – and yet when I open my mouth to scream – nothing comes out. Lord, in your mercy, grant us your words to speak out loud in the midst of this world in which we currently live. Amen

    1. Lord, hear Leigh’s prayer, and all of our prayers and screams and cries, both audible and silent. Amen.

  2. This was so good for my soul. Jessica, I am so ashamed of myself. I didn’t even realize that I put you in the box of Children’s Minister. I wish I had reached out to you to be my pastor. Please forgive me. I love your writing.

    1. Ann, no need to apologize and certainly no reason to feel ashamed that you perceived me to be in the box of “Children’s Minister” that an entire system had put me in. There was a lot going on, and Children’s Minister was the role I was called to fill for a time, until I wasn’t. And I am grateful that now I have a more expansive role in the church and in the world. I’m glad we can stay connected.

      1. I am really happy for you. I have also learned from our shared experience. The Director of Children’s Ministry at St. John’s co-authors a weekly email called Bread for Our Journey. It is such a wonderful piece every week. I immediately told myself to remember it is co-authored by two gifted leaders. Next up, I am reaching out to go to coffee with her. In part this is because I see how your depth and leadership weren’t fully appreciated. Now at a time we really need our leaders to be vulnerable, transparent, and real, you are giving your congregation that compassionate pastor. Lord, hear our prayers.

        1. Thank you, Ann. I so appreciate you sharing this. And I know the Children’s Minister at your church; I think you’ll really enjoy getting to know her!

  3. Jessica, your words inspire, cause me to think and appreciate your truly compassionate and loving self and to wish I had known you better. Thank you and I will follow your works and try to follow the example you set.

  4. Thank you, Jessica, for your grace-filled words from your heart which gently soothed my heart. You voiced what I have been experiencing and it is good to be reminded the Holy Spirit takes over when we don’t have words. And I am so rarely void of words to the chagrin of my family!🙄Honestly, today I don’t even want God to hear my words after what feels like a gut punch to American girls and women from the Supreme Court’s decision. Thank you for reminding us of the Biblical tool of “lament” which I have never put to use before…until today. May God bless you as you continue to speak words of life when they are most needed!

Leave a Reply to Jessica Petersen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.