Silence for a Hurting Friend

“God takes us into the depths so that we may reach the heights.” I thought that sounded pretty good. I patted the shoulder across the corner of the kitchen table with what I thought was a comforting sort of pat.

“I don’t even know what that means,” he said, shrugging his shoulder out from underneath the next pat I was about to lay on it.

“Romans 8:28, God works all things to the good, and all that. You know the verse.”

“I’m hurting here and you’re dropping Scripture bombs on me?”

“What’s wrong with Scripture?” That sounded defensive, even to me, so I added, “It’s God’s word.”

He leaned over even further in his chair, chest practically resting on his lap. “I know that. Doesn’t mean your platitudes are helping any.”

“They’re not my platitudes,” I said, trying again, “they’re God’s.”

That didn’t come out right.

He looked at me sideways and then dropped his head again. In a voice barely audible over the hum of the refrigerator, “Whatever they are, I don’t want them.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to help here.” I’d lost all pretense of hiding my defensiveness.

“I know. But you’re not.” He gave me another sideways look, but this time with just a hint of a curve at one corner of his mouth, maybe a smile, maybe a sneer. “Try something else.”

Back down went his head.

I sat there, stumped, silent.

“That’s a start,” he said.

More silence. Then a small groan and a soft sob, and those unpatted shoulders started rocking up and down slowly. I stood up and moved behind him, resting my hands lightly on his back as he wept into his lap.

“God, if we can’t come to you for comfort, I don’t know where we can turn.” I stopped, not knowing what else to say, or if to say anything else, or if I should have said even this much.

More silence, then, “That’s good too,” came the muffled voice from his lap.

So I prayed some more.

For him.

And for me.

***

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17 Responses to Silence for a Hurting Friend

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Terrific post, Tim. I’ve been on both sides of that type of conversation. Sometimes I’ve had the sense to be quiet and give hugs, other times, I’ve said some crazy and unhelpful things. And then there’s all the times when well-meaning people have told me, “I’ll pray for you” (or some variation) and I’ll really want to tell them where to stuff it. (Most of the time, they have no idea what’s wrong, other than my depression, and they’re not there at the worst moments, the ones that scare even me. It takes a lot of energy not to lash out at them, and it’s probably God’s mercy on all of us that He’s restrained me from acting out.) Just being there, mouth shut, heart listening and praying, is far more comforting.

    • Tim says:

      When people are hurting, I am much more likely to offer to pray if they’ve given some indication they would like that. If they haven’t, I’ll still pray but will likely try the silent presence as far as trying to comfort them. Knowing which is appropriate is not always my forte, though.

      • Donna Gonzalez says:

        I can relate too on both sides as well. Maybe that’s why sometimes God (to me anyway) may appear aloof and indifferent but in reality He’s still there when we go through depression, hurt or trials that often we ourselves don’t even know what or how to pray at that moment because He knows we need silence not lectures, platitutes or constant scripture at that moment. Just His quietness and comfort as Jesus and His Spirit interceed for us silently during those moments.

      • Laura Droege says:

        It’s not mine, either. I wonder sometimes if I’m projecting my own preferences on them, and not doing the truly appropriate thing. We need God’s wisdom to know!

    • Laura, I’m right there with you. I have an anxiety disorder and sometimes depression. Some of the things people say are just so unhelpful. (Thankfully for me, and them, I tend to freeze up and to not be able to even think of an answer.) But, in fairness, I know I’ve done the same to others at various times as well. Maybe we all just need to give ourselves permission to not know what to say and not say it sometimes. 🙂

  2. The best thing Job’s comforters ever did was sit there in silence and solidarity with Job, before they opened their mouths. Thanks for such an important post, Tim.

    When you mentioned Romans 8:28 in this context, the whole scene from 24 years ago came flooding back to my memory. My marriage was crumbling. I stood in an Evangelical church basement after the Sunday School Easter program, which I had directed, written and been pianist for. John the Sunday School superintendent (now long dead) blithely came up to me and congratulated me. He kinda-sorta noticed that something was the matter, and asked in a patronizing way what was wrong. I did not want to get into it, so I simply responded, “Personal problems.” As was typical of him, he lobbed a Scripture bomb: “Oh, that. You know Romans 8:28, don’t you?” And turned, and walked away. I wanted to explode. I wanted to scream at him, “How dare you!” But, I didn’t.

    A whole lot of water has passed under this particular bridge, but here is a blog post I just wrote last night on the ministry of presence. Meditate, Pray, Be Present. #matterofprayer #mindfulness http://wp.me/p43g3i-Pf

    • Tim says:

      That must have been so frustrating ad to be painful in itself. Your ability to refrain from responding to him is more than I could have done.

      Thanks for the link to your post too. I left a comment there.

  3. Thanks for this, Tim. So often we (and others) want to solve and fix. But some things don’t have (or even need) solutions, at least not at the moment. Just being there for someone is so important.

  4. joepote01 says:

    It is really hard knowing how to comfort someone in their grief. All been on all sides of that conversation…the hurting person needing comfort and not appreciating the empty platitudes…the friend trying to help and failing miserably…and the friend quietly praying…

    Quoting scripture rarely helps. Ignoring their pain is even worse. A heartfelt prayer…or an “I love you” seems to go a long ways…

  5. This is beautiful – honest and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing x

  6. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been on all sides of this as well. Having an anxiety disorder, occasional depression, and having been single till the ripe old age of 38 I’ve had a generous helping of platitudes and unhelpful comments “donated” to my cause. One observation I will make from my own experiences, though, is that a person who is trying to help and isn’t is usually much better than those who feel the need to straighten the hurting person out and make them see that they are sinful for even experiencing the pain. 😦 I’ve done this to others I’m sure (knowing my own past), and it has been done to me. I think, as has been mentioned, that one of the best things we can do is to realize when we don’t know what to say and then not say anything.

    I also think that underestimating the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit is the cause of many offenses in the church on many levels, this being one of them. We humans seem to have a tendency to think that it’s our job to make sure His job gets done, when nothing could be further from the truth. He has gotten along through most of history just fine without my “special help”.

    Surely the reason that God commanded us to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15) is because He knew that we’d have trouble with that at times. Otherwise, why would He mention it so specifically?

    Thanks again for this honest and soul-searching post.

    • Tim says:

      That is a great insight on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the guidance given in Scripture, Mary, thank you.

    • Mary Anne says:

      Thanks, Mary. As a person who has dealt with anxiety, depression, and a chronic pain situation, and is STILL single at the ripe old age of 56 (how the blazes did I get that old?! I still feel about 12 most of the time!), I really have to bite my tongue* sometimes when people offer their “help,” especially if they start calling me sinful for suffering.

      *(Hey, if I bit their tongues, one of us might catch something…) ;-D

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