Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Terrible things happen. You don’t need me to tell you this.
The pandemic we are living through is terrible.
Accidents, and heart attacks, and cancer are terrible.
Terrible things happen every day. The question is, how can we help people who are reeling from something terrible?
Yesterday, I shared with you a list of things never to say to people who are suffering.
The list is from
who was diagnosed at age 35 with stage IV colon cancer and knows the pain both of cancer and careless words.
Below is her list of things that are good to say when loved ones, friends, and neighbors are suffering.
1. “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?”
Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant, A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn’t about cancer and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with YouTube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your gifts. But most important, bring me presents!
2. “You are a beautiful person.”
Unless you are of the opposite gender and used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job without feeling like they are learning a lesson. So tell your friend something about his life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.
3. “I am so grateful to hear about how you’re doing and just know that I’m on your team.”
You mean I don’t have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew. Great! Now I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So don’t gild the lily. What you have said is amazing, so don’t screw it up now by being a Nosy Nellie. Ask a question about any other aspect of my life.
4. "Can I give you a hug?"
Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often—not always—feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throwaways. So ask if your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar.
5. “Oh, my friend, that sounds hard.”
Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary but they don’t usually want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So simmer down and let them talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn’t is exhausting.
The truth is that no one knows what to say. It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.
Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved
by Kate Bowler
I want to add one more from a member of our congregation. In response to yesterdays email, Gail shared with me what she encouraged people to do when she was going through treatment:
Say something from the heart like “I love you and I’m so sorry” or just hold my hand and say a prayer.
Proverbs 18:21 says
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue...”
Some day soon you will have a conversation with someone who is suffering. When that time comes do no harm and do good by letting your words speak life.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Donnie Wilkinson