Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is offer a hug.
Sometimes the most loving words are the hard, honest ones.
Sometimes the best way to be there for someone is just to let them be.
Last week I got some devastating news about a health situation in my family. My initial reaction in serious situations is to get upset — let out my surprise, my sorrow, my anger — and then get down to the business of action. What steps can we take? What plans can be made? What questions need we ask?
But before I can do those practical things, I need to have my moment to lament. I might cry or scream or curse. I express helplessness, confusion, fear and grief. And I’m OK with all of those emotions. What I need is for someone to listen to it, to offer support and maybe even lend a shoulder to cry on.
In my experience, the least helpful offerings generally come from the most well-meaning friends. They tell you everything will be OK; it all happens for a reason. God won’t give you more than you can handle.
None of that is comforting. Those platitudes don’t acknowledge the real emotions you’re feeling or the truly dire consequences of the situation you’re facing. What’s meant to be comforting is very often condescending.
A speaker I heard earlier this year described the Book of Lamentations as being a genuine, heartfelt outpouring of trust in God. The writer, he explained, believed in God’s loving faithfulness so strongly that he felt comfortable asking God, “Why me?” The writer was in pain and turned to his Father to express his most deeply held feelings. His relationship with God was so strong and so unbreakable, he could confess his true, raw thoughts and not worry about being judged.
I thought a lot about this over the weekend as the platitudes rolled in: Count your blessings. He’s a fighter; he’ll pull through. Just breathe. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.
It might all be sound advice, but none of it helped me get through my grief and start to see things more clearly.
What did help was my colleague, Susan Hines-Brigger — herself no stranger to having a tough row to hoe — coming in to my office Friday afternoon and hugging me and crying with me. She let me be sad and hurt and scared, and didn’t judge my words or my tears.
Susan took the leap. She reached out in a personal, human way and never offered any of the good ol’ stand-bys that roll so easily off the tongue. She risked moments of awkwardness or the discomfort of not being able to take away my sorrow. She took my hand and walked with me on my journey at that moment, and never flinched.
In what greater way could one person be the Body of Christ for another?
In her act of generosity, Susan was merciful and pure of heart.
She gave not platitudes, but Beatitudes. And I forever will be grateful for her compassion.
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