• Maggie Wallem Rowe

What Do You Say to God When There Are No Words?

The day is ordinary, blissful in its ignorance of what is about to take place. Then a call, a text, a knock on the door, and in a nanosecond life as you knew it tilts and you’re looking at the world slant and stunned.


What do you say to God when there are no words?


A few days ago, Mike and I were walking through a park when I noticed I’d missed a call from one of our children. I stepped off the path and touched the CALL icon on my phone. Two rings, then a single, shaky word: “Mom?”


How is it possible that one syllable can freeze-dry your heart, salt-rim your eyes?


I yelled for my husband, and we huddled together on a bench listening to words no parent wants to hear. Passersby glanced at us curiously, then away, perhaps embarrassed by witnessing the private moments of another family’s shock. I wished wildly for a full-face mask that hid more than my nose and mouth, open in a rictus of pain.


I know many of you personally who are reading these words right now. I’ve heard your stories, witnessed your grief. You know just how it feels to get that call, that text, that knock. In the silence of the night, when fear raises its bloody sword against faith, where you do find the words to express the unspeakable?


The call comes, but after a few moments with no help from you, your heart resumes its percussion. And as it takes up the beat of life, it taps out a rhythm of memory.


Remember, remember what you learned long ago. You’ve studied the promises, taken them to heart. You’ve trained for this. When everyone else is everywhere else, He is there. He is never more surely with your children than when you cannot be. Remember, remember who knew them first and loves them most.


For the past four days, a cloud has settled over Peace Ridge. A literal one. We have been unable to see anything more than the poplar tree looming large just beyond our deck. In our nearly three years living on this rocky outcropping in western North Carolina, we’ve never experienced weather like this.

View from our deck February 12,13,14,15, 2021

The world is wrapped in cotton batting. I can no more envision a coherent conversation with God than I can see beyond my deck.


But out of the mist, shreds of memory surface towing a banner of words that are faithful and true. Principles of prayer learned years ago from the teaching of a mentor who died two years before I was born.


“Prayer is the very air we breathe at Dohnavur,” wrote Amy Carmichael decades ago of her work in India. “We pray urgently and at all times for the needs of the family here. We have three rules of prayer:

First, we don’t need to explain to our Father things that are known to Him.
Second, we don’t need to press Him, as if we had to deal with an unwilling God.
And third, we don’t need to suggest to Him what to do, for He Himself knows what to do.”

Yes, Lord, I remember what Amma taught, she who was mother to many.


So I will ask You to heal, but I need not explain.


I will shape my worries into petitions, but not press.


I will remember ways you have blest, but not suggest what I think You should do.


That Sunday as we worshipped online with our child’s church, the words to a chorus sang the prayers we could not pray:

“Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me, Let me be singing when the evening comes.”

This is what you say to God when you have no words.


Copyright Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2021.

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