Monday, February 23, 2015

Comforters Are Brave

[God] is asking you. . . to value your comfort less than the privilege of comforting others.
Peter Greer, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, Chapter 12, page 133

I stand in Walgreen's alone, staring at the card rack.  Everyone close to me is hurting in wildly different ways and I have no idea what to say.  I am a case study in what not to say. 

I'll buy a card.  I'll let Hallmark speak for me. 

I am afraid of hurting more, of doing more damage than has already been done, of driving knives deeper and opening up wounds; of widening a distance if I'm unable to explain my heart.

I scan the themes.

Cope.  That's a good heading. I pull a card out of the rack. 

And we know that all things work together. . .

I can't even finish reading the overdone scripting of the overused verse. 

Christians are phenomenally good at cliches.  It's our secret weapon.  I've been wounded by the secret weapon and I put the card back.

As I pull each card out and read each confident caption, I feel like I hear a disappointed, unprinted echo.

God is good all the time. It doesn't seem like it right now.

You'll get through this.  What if you don't?

The Lord will deliver you.  But He might not.

He cares for you!  Then why is my life falling apart?

You're strong.  This is a bigger mess than anyone knows and I'm so very weak.

I am struck, suddenly, that countless people stood in this same aisle and wondered what to say to me.  I was the broken one and they spoke life.  

It's my turn to comfort now and I didn't know how hard it was to be the comforter.

I know who the good comforters are.  These are the people that you want in your corner.  They don't ask what you need, they just do it. They show up and bring food or mow your lawn or just hang out with you.  They warn you when maybe you're getting stuck. They risk your wrath and tell you anyway.  They are in it for the long road.  They don't hand out solutions. 

But me- I don't know what to say to broken marriages, broken dreams, broken relationships.  I am afraid, and I say nothing.

For the last five years, I've felt I had some answers when someone loses a child.  I have unconsciously known what to say and what not to say, and I've not been afraid to be involved, send a text, make a phone call or show up on a doorstep.  I wonder if this response has become a bit skewed.  It's so familiar to me and while still shocking and senseless, grief follows a very similar course for each person traveling it.  I feel I recognize the markers in myself and others, too.  Have I lost the sharp agony?  Maybe a little.  Have I lost the fear of being vulnerable and risking being hurt by involvement?  I absolutely have.

I think I've become a bit over-confident and now, faced with different kinds of pain, I am at a complete loss.  I have no answers.  I am confused too.  There is no reference point.  I am not sure I even have hope to offer and I am silent.

The answers I have for grief from personal experience don't quite fit the same into other scenarios and even as I write, I am disappointed in my self-developed checklist for helping others.  It's deceptively easy to bring checklists into hard stuff.

1)  Bible verse
2)  You'll be ok
3a) Send card
3b) Send money
3c) Send flowers
4)  If you're not ok, get some counseling
5)  You're still not ok? More counseling

But comforters know that checklists are best for business and accomplishing tasks and ultimately only for freeing our energies for the really important things. 

Recently I asked a friend: hypothetically, how would you care for someone who was facing loss? I anticipated a short message in reply, but instead I received these wise words:
Showing them that you care is the best thing you can do while it's still fresh. Don't give them advice. Yet. Give them hope (specific to the disappointment). They'll have to accept it first which will take a while and during that time the hope will take away some of that "sick" feeling. Tell them that you are sorry for them. But most of all being there in a supportive role is huge. It's not up to you to make them feel better. You can only help a little bit. It's something they're going to have to deal with internally. After a while, let them know that God has His best in store for them and while this is painful now, what He has instead in the future will make them much happier than what they wanted now.
Right now their hearts are heavy. The hope that you give them lifts it a little and for a bit they feel it's weight is shared. And that is the best thing you can do.
I think scripture helps after a while but right now sharing a verse with them feels very cold and uncaring even if it wasn't meant to be. It will help later. Sharing a story from the bible however that relates to them is very good. It lets them know that someone else suffered the same thing and it turned out good in the end.

Shocking events make you shake your head and ask why. They don't make sense and  they make us numb. I think sometimes life doesn't have a reason for what happens -- it just does. Solomon said a bad thing can happen to a good person just like an innocent bird gets caught in a net. It doesn't work out better in the end for the bird. It just happens. It's hard to see a reason for it.
Wisdom comes from the house of sorrow. And wisdom is the most important thing to attain because it's profitable in all things. As hard as sorrow can be and as much as it takes, it does give wisdom. And wisdom is worth learning. Speaking for myself, I didn't, couldn't, sometimes can't, see a reason for some disappointing things in my life but one thing I can say is through them I've learned a small portion of wisdom and it makes up for some of the things I've lost. Hopefully someday it will make up for all of them and then some. Here's to hoping. [shared with permission]

Because we so love checklists, here's a little list, not of tasks, but of heart attitudes I found in the words above:

care while the need is still fresh

withhold immediate advice

extend hope

say you're sorry

be there

realize you can't make it better

be patient

share the weight

be slow to hand out Bible verses, rather take the time to dig into the Word for meaningful hope

go ahead and shake your own head and ask why

enter in to the pain

and understand that bad things happen to good people for no apparent reason.

So years later, I am in the shoes of the brave comforters who came to us.  Looking back, I realize that they didn't know what to say either, but they didn't stay silent.  Many hadn't any idea what we were going through, but they still stood with us in the rubble of all of our mess and gave us some strength to hold on to.  I realize now that it's a special kind of bravery that sits in the ashes of someones life and holds them tight. 

God, forgive me for thinking that I have answers for anything, because I don't. 

God, help me be brave enough to show up with empty hands.

God, help me to comfort and not wound. 

God, please help me to be a safe place. 

Mission Drift by Peter Greer

Why do people stray so far from sincerely good beginnings?  This question intrigues and frightens me, which is why I was interested in Peter Greer's sharp yet hopeful critique of why and how drift happens. It's a bit heavier than Greer's usual writing style because of his meticulous research and carefully reported examples.

The most interesting aspect of the book to me was that names were named, both as positive and negative examples of drifting from an initially clear purpose.  Compassion International, World Vision, the YMCA, Harvard, Yale and InterVarsity are all organizations to learn from, on varying ends of the drifting scale.

"You can't assume that a mission will take care of itself," stated Dr. Gene Habecker, President at Taylor University. "It will atrophy if you don't aggressively manage it in an ongoing way and continually reaffirm and integrate it into everything that you do over and over and over again.  Mission management is never over.  It's never done."
Mission Drift, page 51 

Staying true to where God calls you requires that your mission statement have clarity and vision and an awareness that we are so prone to wander. This book was helpful to me from a variety of angles: charity, church, business involvement and even as a mom.

Disclaimer: Bethany House provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.