Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
When terrible things happen, it can be hard to know what to say.
We want to speak words of comfort. We want to be helpful and the last thing we want to do is make things worse.
Sadly, that’s exactly what we do sometimes. If we are not careful, words we hope will be helpful end up being hurtful.
In the coming days, I suspect more and more of us will personally know someone who is sick with COVID-19. In the coming months many, if not all of us, will personally know someone who dies from it.
When that happens, if it happens, we don’t want to make a terrible situation worse by saying the wrong things.
In the spirit of our General Rules, I want to share something I have found helpful.
In her book,
Everything Happens for A Reason
, a professor at Duke Divinity School describes her surreal experience of being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35.
Her book is beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, and helpful.
I’m sharing her list of things
to say to people who are suffering today. Tomorrow, I’ll share her list of words she has found helpful.
Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times: a short list
1. “Well, at least…”
Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it’s not…Stage V cancer? Don’t minimize.
2. “In my long life, I’ve learned that…”
Geez. Do you want a medal? I get it! You’ve lived forever. Well, some people are worried that they won’t, or that things are so hard they won’t want to. So ease up on the life lessons. Life is a privilege, not a reward.
3. “It’s going to get better, I promise.”
Well, fairy godmother, that’s going to be a tough row to hoe when things go badly.
4. “God needed an angel.”
This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo on Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we just pretend that the deceased return to help you find your car keys or make pottery?
5. “Everything happens for a reason.”
The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I’ve had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels sprouts. I mean, no one is short of
reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only things worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.
6. “I’ve done some research and…”
I thought I should listen to my oncologist and nutritionist and my team of specialists, but it turns out that I should be listening to you. Yes, please tells me more about the medical secrets that only one flaxseed provider in Orlando knows. Wait, let me get a pen.
7. “When my aunt had cancer…”
My darling dear, I know you are trying to relate to me. Now you see me and you are reminded that terrible things have happened in the world. But guess what? That is where I live, in the valley of the shadow of death. But now I’m on vacation because I’m not in the hospital or dealing with my mess. Do I have to take my sunglasses off and join you in the saddest journey down memory lane, or do you mind if I finish my mojito?
8. “So how are the treatments going? How are you really?”
This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me too. So let’s just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of
American Ninja Warrior
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Donnie Wilkinson