There seems to be a war on thoughts and prayers as of the past few years. We all know the rationale behind this. Some have been quoting the Bible:
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -James 2:17-18
It’s true. Everyone who has watched someone go through something tragic has at one point cried out, “Why won’t somebody just DO something!” So, doing something..that’s the answer right?
Not quite.. how should we respond when we experience someone going through a great loss? Should we send our throughs and prayers? Yes.. but that’s not good enough. Do we fix it for them? Sometimes.. but sometimes that’s not in our power or it’s not our place. So then what CAN we do?
The answer? We can sit with them.
We can wade into the murky swampland of shame and vulnerability and grief and sit with them. Is it harder than sending up a prayer hoping God will take care of it so that you don’t have to? Yes. Is it harder even than trying to find a way to fix it? Yes, most often it is. But, it is necessary. Humans are wired for connection and we need to know that our pain matters. We need to know that this part of our story is not like the tree falling in the abandoned woods. These moments of struggle and grief and mourning.. these are our defining moments. These are moments that create shame that turns into addictions, fear, anger, and stories we tell ourselves about how we aren’t good enough. Or, these are the moments where we rise up out of all of those things and find our strength, courage, and worthiness. And sometimes it’s both.
Are you willing to know that your friend, neighbor, brother is going through one of these defining moments and you left them alone in it? There are so many ways we leave people alone in their pain. Brene Brown talks about these ways in her book :
1. The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be. Then there is awkward silence. Then you have to make her feel better.
2. The friend who responds with sympathy (I feel so sorry for you) rather than empathy (I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there). If you want to see a shame cyclone turn deadly, throw one of these at it: “Oh, you poor thing.” Or, the incredibly passive-aggressive southern version of sympathy: “Bless your heart.”
3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections. You’ve let her down.
4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: “How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?” Or she looks for someone to blame: “Who was that guy? We’ll kick his a**.”
5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices: “You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.”
6. The friend who confuses “connection” with the opportunity to one-up you: “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!”
We’ve all been there. We’ve all been all of these people at one point in our lives.. and we’ve all been hurt by them too. We’ve been vulnerable and felt our own grief minimized and invalidated and we’ve our shame exacerbated. So, let’s take this realization and learn from it.
Send your thoughts and prayers.. they are NOT useless. Help in whatever way you can to fix it, if that is possible. But FIRST: love them. Be with them. Share their pain with them. As uncomfortable and painful as it is to sit in someone’s grief, it is not more painful than the regret of a lifetime avoiding it.
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” -Mother Teresa