If anyone is going to pick at my scab, it will be me!
Max, our middle grandson, loves to play outside. He is susceptible to mosquito bites and the normal cuts and scrapes like any young boy. On occasion we will find him picking at a small scab. We encourage him to stop as it will only prolong the healing. Not once have I considered picking at his scabs.
Where Did That Come From
After my last post, the one about my friend Dani, I received an email. It was kind, thoughtful, and reminded me how difficult the news of someone else’s pain may be. I typed out my reply. As I read through my reply, tears came. I looked at Patty and asked, “Where did that come from?” She replied, “Well, it meant something to you.”
I listened as a friend stopped by. We talked about how he was doing grieving his recent loss. He shared that a friend had come up to console him. The friend could hardly get the words out for his own sense of overwhelm. His friend had a similar loss in his own life.
Shared experiences are powerful. That does not mean two people share the feelings from the same event, though that may well be. Instead, it is what happens when you hear someone is going through what you once did. Even though you may have worked through the clinical stages of grief and have moved from there to life with new adjustments, the news triggers our sense of empathy. We feel it all over again.
My friend Jason, in his book and several interviews about his book, describes the event as “ripping off the scabs of others’ grief.” When he would tell about his cancer diagnosis, more often than he expected, if he expected at all, hearers would re-experience their own grief all over again. It may not be that they themselves faced a cancer diagnosis or even someone they loved. But, the way human beings experience grief, it could simply be that a person’s loss, whatever that may reference, sits just below the surface of what appears to be well-healed skin only to be experienced as raw.
Careful What You Say
The email I referenced above included a note about what other people say. Again I am reminded of what my friend Jason notes about the story of Job. He finds it too long and not terribly poetic, even if that is the understood genre. Jason points out that while we generally castigate Job’s friends, what they did in the first seven days after Job’s disastrous fortunes is a model for us. Sit. Be silent. Be with.
Maybe it is our own nervousness that prompts the need to speak. The email noted the painful words spoken by Christians, even family, hurt to this day. My email friend shared that some felt it necessary to report why their loved one had to die. Read that last sentence again.
For some reason it is not enough to point to the physical cause of death. Instead, the theme is picked up, in the throes of grief, to suggest why the person had to die. You read that correctly. As if someone full of omniscience stands in the crowd to offer the meaning for another’s death. Generally it includes something about the deceased – lifestyle, a choice, a habit.
Before you offer to say something let me suggest you write it down. Look at it. Read over it. Ask someone else to read it to you. Listen carefully to see how it sounds to you. If you feel the slightest hint that you may need to offer a long explanation or may be embarrassed if misunderstood, don’t say a word. Don’t. Speak.
Compounding the wounds of another is what happens once Job’s friends decide to help explain and give meaning to Job’s suffering. We all would join Jason in thinking those fellows made a terrible story worse. So, don’t do what they did.
Sit. Be silent. Be with.
Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do
I exchanged replies with the person who emailed. My emailing friend noted they were praying every day to forgive the words spoken hastily and ill-informed. You could have knocked me out of my chair. It is not that I did not expect that sort of maturity. It is that grief often makes it hard to consider forgiveness a healthy option.
Jesus’ words came to mind. Remember, those spoken from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” How often do we not know what we are doing when we take up to explain the unexplainable?
I prayed myself. I know well how many times as a Pastor, I have wanted to stop someone from speaking who did not know what they were doing, or what they were saying.
The truth is, I have grown a great deal. In my youthful attempts at consolation. I know that I must have offered something that should have gone unsaid. I hope to whomever I spoke to hastily is praying what my emailing friend shared, for the gift of forgiveness . . . for me.