Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
What’s up mi gente, been a while since I’ve blogged. I’m a terrible blogger really. I generally wait for something to kickstart a blog and today would have been the 3 year anniversary of marrying my late wife, so that’s what got the engine revving today. A lot of great stuff going on in my life right now, and I haven’t had the time to blog. So that’s a good excuse right?
So now is a great time for this post. This one’s a little different, its not me spilling out what’s happening in my life, but it’s a post for you, a “what to do” of sorts. Perhaps the clearest thing I’ve learned is that people, religious and atheists alike have very little comfortability and understanding of what to do when someone close to them is experiencing a loss or going through a difficult time. I’ve spoken to men, women, black people, hispanics, white people, people that have lost children, spouses, siblings, friends etc., and the stories I’ve heard from those trying to help is appalling. But more important than that, the “DO’s” in this post have helped me and countless others get to the other side of grief, and are worth a look.
Chances are this post won’t help everyone reading right now, and I hope it doesn’t. I hope you don’t know anyone experiencing acute pain, but since we all die, since tragedy is all around us, chances are one day you will know someone who is. So, what should YOU do? It all leads to this: The anti-climactic truth is that the best thing that you can do is to mourn (or weep) with those in pain. This is true for you whether you’re a Christian or a Scientologist.
Let me unpack what this means, and more importantly DOES NOT mean. I’ve stated it before, and at the risk of repetition for the 3 people that read this blog regularly (4 if you include my mother), American culture can be incredibly shallow. Rampant materialism (of which I’m guilty) is just a symptom of a society that doesn’t value the depths of humanity as we should. As a result, when someone is in pain, people tend to try to alleviate that person’s pain. That’s a great intention, but oftentimes does far more hurt than good.
The other day, I was in the hallway at my office building and a man was walking in with severe difficulty. He has polio, and as his metal arm and leg braces supported his weight, he walked gingerly and assuredly. As timing would have it, the floor was recently mopped and still wet. I cringed as he walked, fearing the worst and I went to his side to make sure that he wouldn’t fall, and he told me perhaps the most profound thing I’ve heard all year. “If I fall, let me fall, you’ll do more harm than good by trying to stop it.” As soon as he said it, it hit me like a ton of bricks…this is what happens over and over again when people deal with other hurting people. With the greatest of intentions, we try to stop people from falling into pain, and unknowingly cause more pain in the process.
When Paul says to mourn with those who mourn, he’s saying don’t try and stop them from falling into pain, the best thing you can do is walk beside them and help them up.
How can you do that? Here’s what I’ve gathered in the last 16 months of conversations with hurting people.
Be physically available and present with people hurting.
Facebook likes and ReTweets are nice, text messages are even better, but people overestimate what a cliché will accomplish and greatly underestimate what just sitting around with someone will do. NOTHING says I’m here with you like actually being with them. If you’re trying to solve people’s pain, this’ll be uncomfortable for you, because the first thing you’ll think about is that you don’t know what to say. If that happens, realize that you being there is the best message you’ll ever preach.
Don’t don’t don’t reach out to a person and get deep. Christians have this problem more than non-Christians in my experience, but its still a pervasive problem. What people want is their loved one back or for their suffering to stop, not a well thought out statement. What do you say to the husband whose wife just hung herself? Or what should you say to the parent whose child died of a brain tumor at 7 years old? Better yet, what do you say to the man who just got diagnosed with AIDS? I hope you’re drawing blanks, because you should. You shouldn’t know what to say, because there isn’t anything profound that can be said. If I broke my shin and went to the E.R., I’m not going to hear the doctor tell me what happened to my bone, I’m going to get it set, so the healing can begin. For you its the same, be a part of the process, nothing more.
Make definitive requests to hang out or do something for them. Most people that are hurting are in such a fog that they have no idea in the world what they want to do or should do. I get that you don’t want to burden them, and you shouldn’t, but it helps tremendously when people didn’t make me think of what I wanted to do, they presented definite options and gave me a lot of space to accept or reject it.
Simply sending a text and asking could you come over at 6pm on Thursday is great. One of the best things someone did for me was taking me out to dinner 2 weeks after my wife died. He invited me out at a specific date to a specific place and didn’t make me think about too much. I could’ve said no, and I’ve said no to a million things, but I didn’t have to think.
Please don’t try and make someone feel better faster. They’ll feel better when they can process what happened, not a second sooner. I had a lady that told me that I should just think about how good God was and then I’d feel better. Statements like that or “snap out of it” type of attitudes are incredibly damaging.
Be committed to them. It’s a new place for them, and they need friends, old and new. Make some sacrifices to be available to them. It’ll go a very very long way.
Bite off more than you can chew. They need you, but so does your family and you need yourself. If you overcommit you’ll end up burning yourself out and be no good for them or you.
More do’s and don’t?
Leave some suggestions in the comments!