So this is sixty (and two days). As Statler and Waldorf are fond of saying, old … it sure beats dead.
I was young once. The only objection I have to no longer being so, aside from assorted aches and pains alarmingly increasing in both number and pace, is that when I was young I had all the answers. Now, I’m no longer certain I so much as have the questions right. Certainly I’m not alone in this status; many a wry smile has been shared among my generation at both our own formerly held fallacious belief in our near omnipotence and the presently held belief in said omnipotence by our successors in waving the youth flag high. It warrants mention that there are people who, regardless of their age, manage traveling their lifetime’s entirety possessed with unshakable certainty they contain all answers and consummate knowledge of what is best for each and every individual on this planet. They’re called politicians.
There have been lessons learned along the rocky road. One has been learned the hard way, the painful way; the way rooted in being on either side of hellish scenarios. The brutally taught lesson is to neither overestimate the influence, or comfort or power or what have you, of your words for hurting people – or underestimate the influence, or comfort or power or what have you, of your simple presence for hurting people.
When it comes to comforting people I’ve run through most all the possible word combinations. As earlier noted, I haven’t had all the answers and ever-inerrant sage advice since I was a teenager, and that was an ever-increasingly long time ago. The only advice left? It’s quite basic. Be there. Listen. Listen without taking everything the other person says and trying to run it through some preprocessed formula of answers. Simply say when you do understand, because you’ve been there, that you do understand, and shut up when you don’t because you haven’t. Just be there. Comfort, ofttimes wordlessly, via presence. Not a fly-by when things are hot and heavy, but after someone’s life has been blown apart and they’re still dealing with the debris despite no longer being the hot topic. “How are you,” asked with genuine interest and concern, is “I love you” in its most selfless form save “greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”
Sometimes we do have answers. For those of us who believe, said belief incorporates Christ crucified and risen being the ultimate answer. But even then, applied wisdom demands that God’s love in action through us dictates something other than responding with a theological dissertation when someone is hurting. It demands … you know … love in action. It demands presence and personal commitment. Love sustains even as it remains.
Sometimes we withdraw from painful situations because we believe we don’t know what to say. This proves it is entirely possible to be simultaneously right and wrong. When we do know what to say, we should speak up. When we don’t know what to say, rather than withdrawing we should sit down next to the person who is hurting, allowing our simple presence and support to carry the day. Just ask. Just listen. Just hold. Just love. Just sympathize. Just allow empathy. Even Jesus wept at the grief over Lazarus’ passing before He raised him from the dead.