A few weeks ago I attended a memorial service for my first Father in Law. He was a man of great influence over many, having raised a family of ten children plus a nephew. I observed how awkward it seemed for some people to approach the family.
It reminded me of times when I had lost a loved one or someone in my family faced a life-threatening illness. I would hear about people who wanted to reach out to me, but were afraid they didn’t know “the right thing to say.” Here’s an empowering revelation: there is no “right thing to say.” There are no magic words, profound insights or proven platitudes (including Scripture) that will make the pain or fear go away.
This is especially true in situations of divorce or family difficulty. Emotions and thoughts bounce off the walls. Confusion reigns. Intense feelings amplify everything. The best approach is to simply show up. Say things like “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” “l have no idea what to say or do, but darn it, I’ll walk with you through this time!” We are not called to provide marriage advice, extensive Bible readings or share similar pain and suffering from our own background. We simply need to meet our friends and loved ones right where they are — in the middle of their pain.
Is there a risk of doing something that will make things worse? Yes! Doing or saying nothing is the real risky behavior. The big risk is that if you stay away, your absence will speak much louder than any words you choose — “right” or “wrong.” Your absence can be interpreted as rejection, judgment or lack of caring. Those who have experienced a loss, whether through death, divorce or something else, are keenly sensitive to feelings of abandonment.
Those of us who profess that we love and trust God to do the heavy lifting in our lives and the lives of others, need to practice what we preach by resisting the temptation to preach! The message of God’s love can come through loud and clear in a hug, a kind word, a supportive note. Your empathy for another’s pain is not an endorsement. It is simply a living-in-the-flesh demonstration of God’s never ending love, not matter where we are in life. Allow your friend in pain to lead the discussion. When they want to talk, when they want to hear your story, when they want to go deeper, they will let you know.
Do not be afraid to love. As long as you don’t say something cruel or judgmental, your words will be fine. And if you do say something that you worry was not appropriate – check-in with your friend and apologize. They will appreciate your care.
Just remember that the simple act of a phone call, a visit or bringing brownies, flowers or a nice bottle of wine also demonstrates your care.