We all suffer. It’s part of the human condition. We also journey with those who suffer: friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. As people of faith, we often find ourselves wonder what to say, wondering what to do. As a result, we often offer up platitudes and pep talks to people in their pain, minimizing what they’re feeling in an effort to “fast track” them into recovery. But we’d think twice about these pithy little statements if we realized how harmful they are to people in pain.
Eugene Peterson writes about this in his Study Notes in Conversations:
Nothing does more to demean the person who suffers than to busy oneself in fixing him or her up. And nothing can provide more meaning to suffering than taking the suffering seriously, offering our companionship, and waiting in the dark with that person for the coming of dawn.
I love Peterson’s phrase, “waiting in the dark with that person for the coming of dawn.” If you want to know how to help someone through suffering, take this metaphor to heart.
Instead of speaking, listen.
Instead of smiling, cry.
Instead of praying, sit.
Offer your companionship. Enter into this moment with your friend and journey with them as far as they ask you to. The time will come for speaking, smiling, praying. But our immediate posture should be less active. Choose to be present, nothing more.
Instead of turning on the lights, sit with them in the dark and wait for dawn.
Wait for the One who bids dawn come in the first place.
“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” — Prov. 18.24