There are a few times that I read a column or blog post and it makes me stop. I stop because I’m confronted and the piece calls me to a new window of understanding. Such an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks was forwarded my way by a colleague and it shaped the thought process of my day.
I began reading through The Art of Presence and had to stop on my way through (If you haven’t read it yet, please go and do it now). The words of wisdom washed over me because I saw myself in it. I saw how I often used well intentioned yet idiotic phrases to “comfort” others. I saw myself in it because I have been on the receiving end of painful good intentioned phrases. Being told “God’s will” in a text message from a friend while your grandfather is dying in front of you is not helpful.
Don’t get me wrong, sound theology is helpful in a lifetime friendship. I’ve found that reading aloud the Psalms at the bedside of my dying grandparents comforted me more than a profound passage from the best theologians. Calvin, Wright, and Luther root me in the faith, but in times of darkness simply hearing the laments and hope amid despair found in the Psalter were enough.
Here’s what needs to happen amid tragedies: show up when someone is in pain.
Bring them a favorite drink or a comforting candy bar. Show up and cry with them, you don’t have to share anything profound. Weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. Even for those who have a deep and abiding relationship with Christ we still need to have the space to mourn significant life events.
I have no idea what it is like to lose a child, and I hope I never have to bury Lucy in a grave. Thus I cannot say “I know what you’re going through” with someone who lost a child. That’s why the art of presence is about being there and not comparing or trying to make sense of tragedy is not helpful. Instead, show up.
I hope you and I take heart with Paul as we aim to “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.”
How do you walk with others in times of despair?