Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing. —Robert Benchley
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. —Proverbs 17:28
Summer had just begun, and my third year of college was blissful history. I planned to enter the ministry after college and seminary, and was eager to start my summer job helping pastor three country churches in the beautiful mountains of southern Virginia. The pastor of these churches was bi-vocational, and lived in North Carolina. He traveled up on Sundays for preaching. My job was to live in the church community pastoring the flocks during the week, and share the preaching on Sundays.
My first days there were seasoned with sweet butterbeans, fried chicken, cold watermelon, and warm hearts. Obviously, I was cut out to be a pastor. Life was good. Living was easy. What a sweet way to spend a summer. That is, until I got that phone call early one morning.
Just days after I settled in, the pastor phoned me with a tone more somber than I wanted to hear. He slowly said, “I just got a call informing me that Mr. Hawks’ son just shot himself and is dead. I can’t get up there for several hours. Therefore, I’d like for you to go up the mountain and see him. I’ll get there as quickly as I can.” Then he hung up.
In the humid heat of that sticky summer morning, icy fingers of fear wrung my heart out like a limp dishrag. I never saw this in the job description. Visit the sick and shut-ins, preach on Sundays, and eat lots of fried chicken. That’s what I bargained for. But attempting to console a man whose son just blew his brains out was way out of my league. But I had no choice. I had to climb up that mountain in more ways than one.
Mr. Hawks lived on top of one of the most beautiful mountains in Virginia. With the scenic mountain-view in the background, his property looked like a picture postcard you would buy to write "Wish you were here!" on. But as I pulled into Mr. Hawks' driveway that awful day, I wished I were anywhere but there.
Mr. Hawks was rocking on his front porch when I drove up. I suspected lots of watermelon, home made ice cream, love and laughter had been shared between him and his son on that porch. Now those memories sliced bone-deep into him like a razor blade without mercy as he sat there alone, so terribly and agonizingly alone.
I had no clue what to say to this shattered man. What does one say to a father whose only son just put a bullet through his head, and whose stiff body now lay stone cold on a slab in the morgue?
I slowly dragged myself out of my car, shuffled over to the porch and slowly sat down in a rocking chair beside Mr. Hawks. I didn't say a single word. I had no idea what to say. So I just sat down in a rocking chair beside him. And I rocked. And he rocked. We both sat there rocking in dead silence for about twenty minutes before I finally quit rocking, stood up and said, "Mr. Hawks, I have no idea what to say except I'm so terribly, terribly sorry, and I'll see you later." Then I left.
All I could do in that broken man’s hour of gut-wrenching grief was sit there and rock like a deaf mute. No words of comfort. No scripture reading. Not even so much as a short prayer. I just rocked beside him for twenty minutes in dead silence and left him alone.
A few days later, after the funeral was over and the crowds gone, I drove back up the mountain to visit Mr. Hawks. As I pulled into his driveway, he was again rocking alone on his front porch. Painfully aware of my own inadequacy as a comforter, I simply sat down beside him again and started rocking. Little did I realize what was coming.
After a few minutes of silent rocking, Mr. Hawks, staring out over the mountain, slowly said, "When you came to see me the morning of my son's death, two other preachers had already been here ahead of you. The first one told me he understood how I felt. But that preacher had no clue how I felt. How could he? Had his son just killed himself, too? That preacher was full of pious nonsense and I was glad to see him leave.”
"The second preacher told me that my son was in a better place. I didn't want my son in a better place. I wanted him here with me. After he said enough to make himself feel better, he left too."
"And then you came. And you didn't say anything. Thank God you didn't say anything. What could you say? What could anybody say? I didn't want anybody telling me anything. I just wanted to rock. And as you rocked with me, I knew you cared. And when you got up and told me you were sorry and didn't know what else to say, I knew that. And I was glad that's all you said. Rocking with me was enough.”
Someone once said, “A wise man thinks twice before saying nothing.” Mr. Hawks didn’t need my words that morning. The Solid Rock was enough.
© Chip Kirk