November 24, 2017, 5:18 pm
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Hackneyed Comfort

Perhaps it isn’t a good idea to keep saying “Everything happens for a reason” when something bad or tragic happens to someone. One day, we might get an answer like, “Oh, yeah? Like what?” Accompanied by a withering stare. 

Because no matter how good our intentions are, it could sound like we’re just brushing off someone’s pain with an easy platitude. 

I have a friend whose five-year-old son died on the operating table. It was more than devastating. 

Maybe God has another word that’s worse than “devastating,” because if there’s a word that’s far worse than that, it’s what my friend is going through. 

With my limited vocabulary, and man’s sorely limited sense of empathy, I don’t think there’s a thesaurus in the world that can give this mom a word that can accurately describe how she feels about losing her adorable little boy. 

That’s why it was such a pain to hear people tell her, “Oh, everything happens for a reason... he’s enjoying it so much in heaven now. He’s in a much better place!” And variations of the same theme. 

I know these people meant well. I know what they’re saying is true. But somehow, what they said didn’t bring my friend much comfort. In fact, I could see that it was leaving her dead cold. But she was just too polite to even wince. I knew she was trying hard not to take offense. 

Imagine that. A person in deep grief, having to struggle to be polite to someone who means well. Someone who thinks he has this tragedy all figured out. I felt my friend’s quiet despair. 

I wonder how many of us think, really think, of the impact of our words on people who are deeply grieving, suffering from a loss so profound that they can’t put it into words?  

We don’t always have an answer for everything. We don’t always have to understand why tragedy strikes -- why a person in the peak of life suddenly gets paralyzed. Why a young mom suddenly has cancer. Why a little girl suddenly dies of a rare blood disease. Why a teenager suddenly drowns in the sea. Why a healthy dad slips in the bathtub and dies. 

Why a young man suddenly commits suicide. 

There are countless, grievous  things happening around us that we have absolutely no control over, and which we cannot understand. So we must stop talking about it in easy platitudes. Shallow cliches. We must stop giving hackneyed comfort. 

Let’s not cheapen people’s suffering by labeling their pain.

It might be convenient and comforting to us to classify their crises in neat little folders. But it’s surely no help to them. And blurting out cheap words of comfort is just adding to their sorrow.  

So it’s good to remember: Cure-all statements are always suspect. Being flippant about pain only inflicts more pain. 

We must learn NOT to say things that give false hope, like “Everything’s going to be all right.” Or “This, too, shall pass.” Because, well...what if it doesn’t?!! 

I know. It works in the movies. But not always in real life. 

Avoid sweeping generalizations like “It’s going to be worse before it gets better.” First, you don’t know if that’s really going to happen. And second, did anyone ask for your opinion? 

Hurting people don’t need to get hurt some more by our glib pronouncements and unsolicited advice. If we don’t know what to say, well, maybe a big bowl of delicious comfort food will give more comfort! Or soft, jumbo pillows that can make sleep come faster and easier for your hurting friend. Maybe a comfortable, warm sweater, or a book oozing with wisdom, or a short prayer and a sincere hug -- all these can bring more comfort, and do more good things than we can ever imagine! 

So. When you’re about to visit a sick person, or a person in grief, please think hard before you go about what you’re going to do, and what you’re going to say.

Be a blessing, not a burden.
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