When Words Won't Suffice

A word can be one of two things: an all-consuming concoction of captivation or a dull declaration, devoid of meaning. A person's ability to communicate with another is perhaps his or her most valuable tool in the toolbox of his skill set. Yet somewhere along the road we find that sometimes words are, well, just that: only words. When words simply won't suffice, to what do we turn?

In my life, this is where prayer comes into play. According to Henri Nouwen, "prayer is not a pious decoration of life, but the breath of human existence." Prayer is more than just a collection of words; even our very breath can become a prayer.

Here at Hesed House (the homeless shelter where I am interning this summer), words don't always suffice. This morning, my site partner (Emily) and I woke up at 3:30 A.M. to make breakfast for the homeless people in the overnight shelter. Joining Emily and I in the kitchen was a homeless man named Stevie. Stevie is an alcoholic. With a bad hangover most mornings, he serves as a member of the shelter's maintenance team, meaning he can live here 24/7 - unlike the other homeless individuals who can only come for mealtime and bedtime - as long as he helps out with the cooking and cleaning. Stevie helped us prepare eggs, sausage, and toast for more than 150 homeless people this morning.

So here we have Stevie. A major alcoholic. With a majorly bad hangover. And an overall majorly negative attitude. In the kitchen. At 3:30 in the morning. Sounds like fun, right?

When it comes to Stevie, words simply won't suffice. No matter how many times Emily and I have sat Stevie down and attempted to steer him away from the endless nightmare of his addiction, our words may never get through to him. Even this morning, Stevie was wobbling around the kitchen, whimpering as he whispered, "My liver...ah, my liver." In that moment, I wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake him around a bit, and talk some sense into him.

But I stopped myself because I knew my words would never be enough to change him. The thing is, you cannot change a person; only God knows and only God can fully change a human heart. How? Prayer. Prayer and more prayer. Endless prayer. When words don't suffice, prayer comes into play.

When it comes down to it, we all have free will. We can live however we desire to live. Yet at the same time, offering up our frustrated and oftentimes panicked thoughts and words to the Lord and transforming them into beautiful melodies of prayer is the most freeing transformation imaginable. Stevie may always be an alcoholic. Yet one thing I know for certain: no matter how hard I try to change him through the use of fancy words or convincing dialogue, God is the only One who truly knows the human heart, whose words - rooted in His children's cries and prayers - enable us to put the broken pieces of our hearts back together again and become the individuals we were ultimately created to be.

Emily and I with two of the kids who live here at Hesed House.

Song of the Week:


  1. how sad it is when prayer is usually our last reponce, last ditch effort to lifes problems i.e. "please GOD help me !!!", when it should be our first ???


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