Sometimes, I feel like the church has a hard time lingering in places of pain.
Abuse. Homosexuality. Bullying. Singleness. Disability. Abortion. Illness. Addiction. Grief.
We tend to skim right over these topics, offering quick, carefully-crafted statements about our stance on the issue. It winds up feeling more like a presidential candidate’s stump speech than a conversation with a human being who actually cares about you.
In our discomfort, we search for something solid to hang onto, one hard nugget of truth, and offer it up whenever the topic arises–a Bible verse, a word of advice, something we read on the internet or heard from Dr. Phil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s a bit like offering Tylenol to a person who tells you they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. Understandable, but the person might think you either didn’t understand the scope of their struggle or were trying to get rid of them, brushing off their pain with a trite, easy answer.
They’re staring down dragons, and we’re saying, in effect, “Yeah, dragons are bad. Hey, did you know The Hobbit is coming out this year? There are dragons in that.”
Because we don’t want to talk about dragons. Just thinking about dragons starts our adrenaline rushing, makes our backs makes prickle with heat, fills our noses with the remembered or imagined stench of sulfer.
No, we don’t like talking about it, so we offer up our nugget like an appeasement to an angry god, then scurry, almost superstitiously, to the next topic, as if talking about the issue will make it manifest in our midst.
As if it already hasn’t.
But how does this help anybody? This pretentious, fragment-of-truth telling? This nervous acknowledgment (and implied dismissal) of life-altering hurts?
All it really does is get people to shut up and stop talking about it. To suffer and struggle in silence, alone, because we obviously don’t want to hear it, don’t care enough to even LOOK at the dragon they are facing, except maybe a quick, begrudging glance out of the corner of our eye.
When did we become such cowards? Are we afraid their dragons are going to devour us, too?
It’s hard to know what to say, how to respond, when people are hurting or struggling. I will be the first to admit that I can really stink at that.
But can I propose that perhaps we don’t have to say anything at all? That perhaps we can just listen, witholding judgement, praying silently, and offering hugs instead of advice?
Maybe people don’t need us to have the answers. Maybe people just need us to listen and love them.
It certainly beats trying to shove an emotional aspirin down their throat.