What Can I Not Say?

Amazing art by Lisa Graham. Click image to visit her on Etsy.
Amazing art by Lisa Graham. Click image to visit her on Etsy.

Good morning, friends. Maybe you’ve noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here lately. Trust me, it’s not because it’s quiet in my brain or boring in my life. Quite the opposite. Hopefully, I can update you soon.

In the meantime, something I read today from Parker Palmer really resonated with me. The book is called, Let Your Life Speak. Which is kind of the opposite of how I tend to communicate truths that resonate with me. My approach is more, Let Your Mouth Spout.

I did that the other day when a depressed friend came by for a visit. She was in that place of internal exhaustion, where you wake up and realize you have nothing to give and you want the world to go away.

I gave her some great advice and shared spiritual tidbits that seemed inspiring to me. I was gratified when she told me, “I wish I had a tape recorder.”

It wasn’t until hours later that I realized I missed the real opportunity—to listen with kindness and care. To give her space and time to arrive at her own wisdom. To help her soften around her pain instead of suggesting it’s wrong to feel this way.

In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes about his own struggle with depression. “Twice in my forties I spent endless months in the snake pit of the soul,” he explains. “Hour by hour, day by day, I wrestled with the desire to die . . . I could feel nothing except the burden of my own life and the exhaustion, the apparent futility, of trying to sustain it.

“I understand why some depressed people kill themselves: they need the rest.”

Naturally, lots of people tried to help Palmer. To cheer him up. To remind him how valuable his life was. To suggest ways to break out of his funk. And not surprisingly, none of it helped much.

He writes:

One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to “fix” it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery. Standing there, we feel useless and powerless, which is exactly how a depressed person feels—and our unconscious need is to reassure ourselves that we are not like the sad soul before us.

In an effort to avoid those feelings, I give advice, which sets me, not you, free. If you take my advice, you may get well—and if you don’t get well, I did the best I could. If you fail to take my advice, there is nothing more I can do. Either way, I get relief by distancing myself from you, guilt free.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve done that, how easily I forget that sometimes the only thing more powerful than just the right words is just the right silence. The kind that bears with, not bears advice. The kind that inspires small, powerful acts of love.

“Blessedly,” Palmer writes, “there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by my home every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the one place in my body where I could still experience feeling—and feel somewhat reconnected with the human race.

Bill rarely spoke a word.”

This seems like a good challenge for me next time I’m with a friend who aches: How can I honor the sacredness of her struggle? What can I do to show that I care? What can I not say?

Let’s hope it’s a lot.



Holler for Mercy

Art by Georges Rouault
Art by Georges Rouault

I’ve been in a funk lately. One of those kinds where you feel sad for no reason, unmotivated by your work, blah about the future.

Jesus could come back today and I’d be like, Meh.

When I get like this, my first impulse is to look around my life and try to assign blame. It’s Dave’s fault. It’s the weather. It’s my stupid health issues. It’s my blog. It’s the fact that I’m a recovering alcoholic.

But I know it’s not any of those things. It’s just me being human. And lucky for me, usually, there’s some spiritual practice—gratitude, meditation, or connection with others—that helps me feel better.

Once I’m done wallowing, that is. And don’t rush me.

Yesterday I read in Luke about the blind man begging on the side of road. When he hears that Jesus is passing by, he begins to cry out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

People try to shut him up. But he only yells more loudly.

And it works. Jesus tells those nearby to bring the man to him. And then Jesus famously asks him what sounds like a dumb question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Isn’t it rather obvious? The man would please, very much like to see again!

In the past I’ve been taught that Jesus asks his question because not everyone who’s sick or disabled wants to be made well. Didn’t you know—maybe you’ve heard this too—that some would rather suffer than take responsibility for their lives?

I used to think that. But these days, I’m more inclined to believe that if a really sick person doesn’t want to get well, that’s a good indication that they’re far too sick to know what they want.

Which isn’t a bad laymen’s definition for active alcoholism, or for that matter, clinical depression.

I’m definitely not depressed like that. I have a simple case of the blahs. I have the luxury of knowing that when feeling bad stops feeling good to me, I’ll find a way to quit.

Others aren’t so fortunate. A dear friend, for example, suffers from a mood disorder so powerful that the emotional drag becomes physical. Her body feels too heavy to move, people are too hard to connect with, and ordinary life is just way too much and not nearly enough at once.

She’s the beggar on the side of the road who might not bother to holler because she doesn’t think she deserves the help. Or doesn’t think the cure would work for her.

Or doesn’t have the energy to lift her voice.

My dad was sick this way, too. So broken by addiction and depression that he could hardly wish for wholeness. So hopeless, in fact, that he bowed out of life early.

One thing I noticed in the story from Luke is that after Jesus restores the beggar’s sight, he says, “Your faith has made you well.”

Which could almost make it sound like Jesus found him deserving. But if you ask me, that’s a ridiculous conclusion to draw. The beggar didn’t even cry out, “Open my eyes, Lord! I know you can!”

All he did was holler bloody murder for the one thing Jesus never denied a single person or ever will.


Maybe that’s a better moral to this story. If you’re following Jesus today and you’re in the crowd, feeling well, feeling better, do what Jesus did. Show mercy without condition.

And if you’re in the dark, beside the road, not even sure what you need or if you really want what you need, do what the blind man did.

Cry, Lord, have mercy. And keep on hollering.