We’ve all been there, at a point where the loss or suffering of someone close to us makes us feel like our world i crashing down. Sometimes we’ve been on the other side of the divide, being the ones to comfort friends or family members in the aftermath of an unfortunate incident. In both cases, we’ve been where others do and say everything to help but we neither appreciate it nor see the good in those actions. If we’re on the ‘giving’ end, we ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong. Nothing. Usually, it’s a case of right thing at the wrong time.
So how can we improve our attempts to connect and comfort hurting people? I believe these tips by Mary Covert on relevantmagazine.com can help.
Have no timeline.
Respect hope’s process and rest in the knowledge that it can’t be pushed or manipulated. There will not come a day when sufferers are expected to be “over it” or pull themselves up from their bootstraps.
There is much that is undefined in loss, and that can be terrifying. Like C.S. Lewis wrote after losing his wife, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,” we must feel the unknown and the fear with sufferers, and stay. By grieving together indefinitely both hearts will break and grow bigger together for the investment.
Offer wholehearted presence.
Develop an awareness of what you can and cannot give. This will allow you to be more fully available in the spaces you uniquely occupy.
We can be truly present only when we have a clear understanding of our boundaries—we can’t give what we don’t have. Valuing our own sacred space and having a clear sense of our gifts and limitations allows us to freely give without strings.
This way, sufferers do not have to fear that their grief could overtake us or minimize their pain to make us more comfortable. When boundaries are clear, wholehearted investment is possible; we can travel through dark and deep together.
Have no agenda of your own.
Sit with what you know of God’s deep love and also the unknowns of suffering—both are true and yet so very hard to hold at the same time.
In this delicate space, we will feel the tension of both truths—God’s deep love and the tragic suffering of the world. There’s freedom for the one who offers agenda-less hope without having the burden of trying to explain the pain and for those who receive it as they wade through their suffering and come to a unique understanding of what it means in their story. Trusting in the sufficiency of God and our own presence, creates a gracious humility that avoids advice-giving.
Embrace your status as a fellow traveler.
Remember your own times of deep need. Henry Nouwen—Catholic priest, professor and theologian— once said, “Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.”
He believed that our unique pain can help us understand more about the human condition. It is through our experiences with stewarding our own hurts that we can come to better understand both the larger and smaller stories of humanity.
Our experiences with pain remind us that we are also in need of welcoming into the community of the suffering. And when we know this, we are able to welcome others more heartily into this beautiful broken community, as we collectively discover the courage it takes to hold both grief and hope together.