She abruptly stopped talking as we stood outside her front door. She asked if we could wait here a minute. We said yes.
When she came back, she handed us a piece of paper. On the front was a picture of a man. On the back was his funeral program.
Our friend explained that this was her brother. He had committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day.
She was still reeling from the loss. She went back inside and brought out more photos of her brother.
She needed to show who he was. She needed to talk about him.
We said relatively little.
Often we’re caught off guard by the stories that people share with us. If we just happen to be in the right place at the right time, we might catch the overflow of emotions from someone else’s pain.
But what about when we know in advance that they’re hurting?
- How often do we intentionally step into another person’s heartache?
- Are we more likely to run into the pain or run away from it?
- And if we do choose to avoid it, why?
For me, I often allow my doubts and fears to override my good intentions. I’m afraid I won’t know what to say.
Or I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing (because sometimes I do). So I don’t even show up.
If the only choices I see are perfect or nothing, I’m tempted to choose nothing at all.
Which leaves the other person thinking I care nothing at all.
A Different Focus
Likely we’ve all been on both sides of this. Sometimes we’re the one who doesn’t show up. And sometimes we’re the one that others don’t show up for.
In both scenarios, we hurt.
What can we do about it?
If possible (and granted, it isn’t always possible), if your friend is hurting, bolster your courage to show up in person by knowing this truth:
It’s less about what you’ll say, and more about what you’ll hear.
Otherwise, when we assume the opposite—when we think what we will say is more important than what they will say—we shut the other person down.
Release the pressure on yourself to have the right words.
You’re not there to take away their pain; you’re there to make room for it.
Let go of what you think you should say. Focus more on what they are saying.
People feel loved more when they are seen and heard.
But what about when you are the one with the heavy heart?
Be honest with your friend who wants to help. If they do unintentionally say the “wrong” thing to you (give them the benefit of the doubt when possible), it’s okay to gently let them know that they’re making your pain worse.
And if they truly want to be helpful, they will listen to you and believe what you’re saying. They will change their words or behaviors going forward.
Grace flows easier when we’re invited to participate in the conversation about our own pain.
Connect More, Heal More
Bottom line, when someone around you is hurting, make it more about them than about you. Listen more than you talk.
And when you are hurting, allow yourself to be vulnerable in the presence of a safe and trusted friend. (Never obligate yourself to spill your guts to just anyone!)
What we all need—whether we’re the one doing the consoling or we’re the one in pain—is to feel community. More connections make the load easier to bear.
Our imperfect presence matters more than our perfectionistic absence.
By being human together, we’re being Jesus to each other. This is one way God works in the world.
Use Your Ears
We listened to our friend at the door as she shared more about her brother. She cried. We cried.
We had no magic words to relieve her pain. We had no advice to give or stories to share. We felt we had done so little as we walked away.
Because our friend was still sad, of course.
But we could also tell she had felt seen, which is something we all want.
When space opens up to relay our suffering with other human beings, everyone is the better for it.
If lending our ears more than our mouths can make even a small difference, may we all learn to listen more and talk less.
“Funny, how we worry about having the right thing to say, when listening is so often what people need most.”
Who has really listened to your pain? Did it help? Share in the comments.
- Assign It a Day and Time
- Does This Story Ever End?