In this current season as we are experiencing sorrow and other hard things in our community, we also find ourselves learning some important lessons. I could list so many, but the one that sticks out at me the most involves being wise with our compassion and our words.
As I've read blogs over the years of people going through huge trials, I've often attempted to say something encouraging or helpful. As I watch my friend going through the loss of her husband and writing her beautiful heart out on her blog, I'm also watching people (including me) leave comments. Some are like a balm, soothing and loving. And some make me want to cringe with their presumption. Some even make me want to throw things. And it dawned on me that maybe I've been that type of commenter for others, without ever wanting to be that way or intending to be that way. But maybe I said things that were in fact hurtful simply because I did not have full understanding.
In times of grief we all want to do something, do anything to make the pain go away even a little bit. We do that in our own grief, and we do that when we see others grieving. What I'm learning is the importance of just being. It is hard to just be, but it is sometimes the very best thing to do. If Job's friends had been patient and willing to sit with him and just be for longer than the few days they gave him before they started speaking, I wonder if they too would have been richer for it. One by one, all the people around Job ended up hurting him with their words. They meant well, but their many words failed to show true understanding or even an acknowledgment that sometimes there is no understanding available. Does that make sense?
When I hear someone writing about depression as if it were only a sinful or weak response that could be simply combatted by putting on God's armor, I have a hard time staying silent. Those can be supremely hurtful words to someone who has been on the medical side of depression. Those words are like Job's friends, clueless and pompous, believing in their own compassion, failing to see it was no compassion at all. So when someone grieving mentions that particular topic, the best thing we can do is listen and pray and just be present. If we are in a position to have them consider themselves close to us, then we might ask questions to draw them out, but we should still be careful when making any statements that could feel more like harsh judgments. We have no idea what road they have walked, what wrestlings they have already fought through, what portions are body chemistry and what portions are everything else. We just don't know.
All this I would like to say to one commenter in particular on my friend's blog, but I cannot. So here I am on my public blog writing it out so that my heart can at least let this go. I don't know what my friend is most longing to feel or to hear or even if the comments that strike a nerve in me do the same for her, but for me, I know that I always most long for understanding. And when it cannot be given, I long for presence with quietness. I don't want to be alone in my grief, but neither do I want to have to hear words that sound like clanging gongs.
I don't know how much I'll write over here. Most of my time is spent privately journaling the confusion, grief, pain, and sorrow in a safe place. But if it were possible for the lessons I'm learning to be put into helpful words that were good, beautiful, and true, I might try to put them here. But this could also stay a pretty quiet place too. Only time will tell.
***If you are hungering for a good companion made of words to walk with you in a time of grief, I recommend Jerry Sittser's book, A Grace Disguised. I'm rereading it after several years and finding it packed with gold once again. There are other books by Lewis and Packer and others that are wonderful too, but Sittser's book is in my mind more helpful in the earlier days of grieving than the others.