Words fail me

I have been trying hard to learn the Welsh language since moving here full time. Three hours of lessons a week, time spent on the app Duolingo, and reading the Welsh dictionary have all become features of my life. I often have S4C on in the background in the hope I will absorb more and more of the language.

Of course, lockdown has meant that my opportunities to converse with others have been somewhat limited. However, the one place I get to practice Welsh is in the village shop. On Wednesday evening, buoyed with confidence gained from my lesson that day, I went into the shop: I was able to greet people there, ask them how they were, comment on the weather, say that I’d had my Welsh lesson that day, and even explain that I was buying a cake, card and wrapping paper for my mother’s birthday which was on Friday! Feeling immensely proud of myself I started another sentence only to then stall: I knew what I wanted to say but I didn’t have the words….I had reached the limit of my Welsh vocabulary and found myself resorting to an improvised sign language before finally slipping back into English.

I was disappointed as I wanted to speak just in Welsh, but I shouldn’t be too downbeat as I am still near the beginning of my Welsh language journey and, to be honest, there have been plenty of times that I couldn’t find the right words in my first language either! Certainly there have been times when faced with difficult situations or tragedies that I just didn’t have the right words, or times when friends needed words of comfort and I was too quick to resort to cliches.

How many times have we exclaimed ‘words fail me’ or ‘I just don’t know what to say’?

During my years as a Minister I learnt the value of just listening and even admitting ‘I don’t have the words to make this better for you, but I am honoured you have told me.’ I also learnt that it’s OK for there to be silence and space within a conversation.

Even now there are times I don’t know what to say, especially when praying. The words just won’t come or the situation we find ourselves in seems so overwhelming that anything I might pray for seems woefully inadequate. In those moments I take comfort from the words of St Paul who reminds us that:

“the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.” – Romans 8 v26

It seems that the Spirit knows that there are times when words will fail us. We reach the limit of what we are able to say and we just have to trust that we are somehow being heard and understood.

I guess that’s what we all crave in life: to be understood. We want to be loved and valued, and to feel safe enough to express ourselves.

I do believe that ‘the Spirit is here to help us’. It is a belief which underpins my life and it takes me to a place where no words are needed. It’s enough just to know.

I’m also reminded that the greatest requirement for most of the things that really matter is, not so much having the right words, but love. As St Paul tells us:

“What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others.” – 1 Corinthians 13 v2

Still, that doesn’t excuse me from trying to memorise more Welsh words if I want to be able to speak the language. So, back to the Duolingo….

Published by revanthowe

Unitarian Minister living in rural North Wales.

2 thoughts on “Words fail me

  1. I’m full of admiration. I did one year of Welsh night classes at the Brasshouse in Birmingham. But had to give up when my work pattern changed. Best wishes, Ted Mason.


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