I still had all five senses, but three of them were handicapped. Everywhere I looked, the signs were written in a language I couldn’t read; my ears understood not a single one of the words washing over me from the crowds gathered about; and since I had mastered the equivalent of a two year old’s vocabulary, opening my mouth to speak would only reveal the depth of my ignorance. I had just stepped off the plane into the Moscow airport, and within minutes I felt a sensation I’d never experienced until that day: the sheer helplessness of being unable to communicate. For if I lacked the language to voice even my most basic of needs, should I found myself up to my neck in trouble, my mouth would be nothing more than a font of babble.
A few years later, that moment I had feared finally arrived. Only I wasn’t in Moscow, nor in an airport, nor even around a person with whom I could have spoken. I was in America, at my home, curled up in the fetal position inside my bedroom, my face soaked with tears and snot and all the nasty mess that comes from crying like the end of your world has arrived. I wasn’t up to my neck in trouble; my troubles had risen well above my head by then. I was drowning in them. The words that scurried about inside my head were like wild beasts, unwilling to be domesticated into nouns and verbs that I could collar with grammar. I was full of pain and empty of speech, babbling like a baby who knows he hurts but can’t explain where or why or what he needs to assuage the anguish. Here was the sheer helplessness of being unable to communicate with God in this moment of deepest desperation.
But that was where I was wrong. It’s where I’ve been wrong many times since. For the Lord is more than bilingual; he is the ultimate polyglot, for he speaks every language under the sun. He understands English and Spanish and Russian. He fully grasps the meaning of tears and snot and wailing. The eloquence of the mute, as his heart pours forth his needs in words deeper than words, is a prayer that God hears and understands and answers.
To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heavens: there is a time to pray beautifully crafted petitions replete with ornate language and proper grammar; and there is a time to let tears do all the talking. There is a time to pray the Our Father, and there is a time for the Spirit to cry out within you with groaning too deep for words. But let me tell you what there is not a time for: there is never a time for doubting that, in whatever language in which you pray, be it in words or sighs or weeping or that silent scream of a soul gripped by darkness, Jesus the crucified and risen God, hears and loves and responds.