Now that I have done exactly the opposite of what I intended to do…
Now that I have caused many of you to wonder, “Did she write that last post in response to one of my cards, one of my comments, one of my conversations with her?”
Now that I unintentionally accused you of being like Job’s friends to me…
A retraction is necessary. (I really need a filter on my mouth sometimes. Ok, a lot of the time…)
Let me be very clear:
Out of the over 1000 cards I have received in the mail, exactly 2 have upset me.
Out of the over 7500 comments left on this blog, exactly 2 have rubbed me the wrong way.
Out of what is probably millions of personal interactions I’ve had with individuals trying to encourage me, exactly ZERO have offended me in any way.
You do not need me to be “preaching” to you about how to encourage the suffering. You are teaching me what is effective.
However, I still hear this spoken all the time:
“I just don’t know what to say. I just don’t know what to do. I’m just afraid of doing the wrong thing.”
I said I did the opposite of what I intended. What I would like to do, more than anything, is help people to be LESS afraid to approach the hurting. To be unafraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Now, I can almost hear the collective groans from all the professional counselors and psychologists who have studied for years about the proper way to minister to the hurting and the grieving. So while I am hesitant to speak any more about the subject, I feel the need to clarify myself. I speak only from the experience of one well acquainted with suffering, not from any professional training. But here’s what I’ve learned:
I am convinced that if one earnestly seeks God in prayer before encountering the hurting, the Holy Spirit will guide us into wisdom, into the words to say, the way to say them. He will show us how to best reach the person’s heart in the way that God wants to do through you. He will protect us from doing or saying the “wrong thing.” Pray before writing a card, before going to a visitation, before approaching a person. Ask for guidance and He will be faithful.
2. Just be PRESENT.
You have heard the phrase, “Always preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.” I believe it would be equally true to say, “Always comfort the hurting, and when necessary use words.”
What to me has caused the most pain in my heart is avoidance. Many people say they stay away because of the reasons listed above – I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do, I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. But the sufferer doesn’t realize that is your motivation. It can easily come across as not caring.
Physical presence – a hug, a hand squeeze, sitting by the side in silence – these speak volumes. These expressions of love mean more than any words I have heard. And doing them repeatedly is not a nuisance (maybe if there are too many words that come along with it it can). Remember I am a PT. I firmly believe that God created our sense of physical touch to have special physical and emotional effects on our body and minds. Just put your arm around them.
3. Express love.
“I love you.” I believe these are the only words needed the majority of the time.
Sure, we put pressure on ourselves a lot to show “love in action”. But I contend that just saying the words is an action in itself that makes a world of difference. Everyone wants to “do something.” But the simple act of stating love can not be undervalued.
4. Share the pain.
Tell the person that you hurt with them. That one statement, besides, “I love you,” has meant the most to me. It has kept me from feeling so alone. Others have chosen to allow their world to be interrupted by my pain just as I have been forced to do. What a comfort to know I don’t carry this alone.
I believe that where most people get into trouble with trying to be a comforter is that they are so worried about “saying the right thing” that they just keep on “saying”.
Let me take that pressure off right now:
There is no “right thing” to say. There is no magic phrase, sentence, paragraph, quote, scripture, or essay that is going to instantly heal a hurting heart. There is no perfectly constructed sentence that is guaranteed to reduce pain by 50%. So relax. Express love. Express acceptance. Don’t make it a goal to “change” but to boost.
By the same token, it is difficult to say the wrong thing. I think specifically of those who ask me about Anna. It is not as if my reaction to questions about her is, “Oh, I had completely forgotten about losing a child. Now I’m sad about it again. Why did you remind me about it?” It never leaves my mind. A question does not cause “pain swelling” or any such thing. Sure, sometimes we don’t want to talk about it. And that’s pretty easy to pick up on quickly. But most of us appreciate genuine concern to ask about our suffering.
Alright, I hope that as you’ve finished reading this you now feel released, a new bright FREEDOM to encourage even more than you ever have.
Just pray, the Spirit will guide you. I know because He already has in the way you encourage me.
And I hope that can be the very last of my ignorant counseling advice…