People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Have you heard that before? As I stumble through life, I am learning the truth in that statement more and more. Ask anyone who is hurting what they really need, and the last thing you will hear is “advice” from you. Sometimes there are few words to change a situation, and there is little to say. Period. We are not going to talk someone out of how they are feeling either. Although well-intentioned, many words end up creating a sense of illegitimacy in the person we are trying to “help”. Trying to cheer them up sometimes makes them feel invalidated or insecure about themselves. We need to let the hurt hurt because that’s what hurts do. They hurt. They are painful. No words dispel anguish of heart. The heart just needs to be heard …and understood. There is comfort found in that. Letting the hurt hurt is not the same as being insensitive or indifferent to someone’s pain. It is recognizing them in their pain, and giving them a safe place to bring their burden.
It is a gift to the hurting heart…. a rare one at that.
Hurting makes us all uncomfortable. We want to “fix” it, or talk about less serious things in the hope we can avoid it altogether. The universal discomfort causes us to stuff down our hurts. Swallow down the pain and emotion swelling within us. Don’t let it show. Keep it inside, lest we be the one bringing down the mood. And no one wants to be the downer. So we suffer in silence. We carry our burdens and put on a brave face. We smile the “Fine, how are you” smile, and move on. But it is lonely to carry a burden alone. And heavy. Many hands make light work. But the problem is not inviting a helping hand. The problem is opening up to the many mouths who want to weigh in on our problem. Sometimes it is easier to let it weigh us down instead because the “helpers” leave us feeling worse than before. Not because they are evil or being jerks…well, sometimes they are. But more times, it is just we don’t know how to handle the hurt. So the end result is every man for himself. Each must shoulder his own load. Or so we believe.
A couple of women were talking around me in the foyer not long ago at church. Well, technically, I was part of the conversation. But it felt more like talking around me than to me because my heart was too burdened to engage in the polite talk that day. I felt like a shadow. They didn’t see the real me….the hurting me. They didn’t even ask. They were content with small talk. Sometimes small talk is God’s gift too. But another woman caught my eye across the crowd. I could tell in the way she looked at me that she saw me. Really saw me. She knew my burden. I had shared it with her earlier in the week, and she had been praying for me. She walked over to where I stood, and without a word, hugged me. That hug meant more to me than anything she could have said. It was enough to know someone else cared what I was going through.
Last week, I was praying with a friend who was heavily burdened. We fought through all our common issues. She felt bad for being the burdened one. I had a problem with running my mouth. I automatically went into “fix it” mode, like I could somehow talk her out of her grief and fear. God help me. I felt totally convicted about this afterward…hence, this post!
But in conversation she shared something that really bothered me afterward. It got to the point where it flat-out made me angry. She gave me permission to share it with you. It was something someone else had said to her in the past in one of those burdensome conversations. My friend lost her mother to cancer some years ago. Someone once told her that if her mom had more faith she would not have died. Now, my friend could not get past feeling like she was doing something wrong…like she just did not have enough faith to overcome this burden. Everyone told her that was a lie. We prayed with her and asked God to help her let go of that thinking. I walked away with a new sense of conviction, and some culpability. I never want to be the person who adds to another’s burden. Careless words do damage…long term damage. They compile the problem and create barriers to God. How could you really trust a God that you believe let your mom die because she didn’t have enough faith?! What a grievous lie…and a heavy burden to bear. Telling someone something like that is like taking dynamite and blowing up the bridge between them and God. There’s no ground left to cross over to reach Him. And why would you risk jumping in the water and trying to swim across? Have you heard the story about the frogs that tried to jump out of the boiling pot? They gave up and died because it was unreachable. That’s what careless words can do to another’s faith…make it seem beyond their reach.
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Children know the power of touch. They clamor to sit on our laps, cuddle, snuggle. It is enough for them to just be near you…with you. The children came to Jesus to sit on His lap; to have Him place His hands upon them, and pray for them. Being closer to Jesus is our truest need in bringing our burdens to one another. We hope by sharing them with another it might somehow ease our load, and also bring a touch from Him. Let us take care to be more Jesus-like in our response. We don’t want to be like the disciples; shooing the children away. Or pushing them over a cliff, if we aren’t careful. Let’s make sure on their way to Jesus, the little ones aren’t tripping over us. Let His little ones come to Him; to climb up into His lap in total assurance of His love, goodness, and faithfulness. He is the God who daily bears our burdens. The God who says, “Come to me and find rest”. The God who said to bear one another’s burdens; not to place heavy loads on the already burdened heart. Are you clearing a path, or throwing up stumbling blocks on their way to Jesus?
If you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting, it is best to be honest. Please stop filling the uncomfortable void with a bunch of words (says the girl who cannot shut up). Let the hurt hurt together. Just be with your friend. Be the safe shelter for her pain. See the burden of her heart. Call her out of the shadows of silent suffering and small talk. Let her know its okay to be real with you. You aren’t going to try to fix her, or talk her out of what she’s feeling. She’s not a downer for bringing it up. And don’t forget to hug her. She just needs to know how much you do care.