Two days after I delivered Harlynn in that all too dark and quiet hospital room, Brent and I were sitting in our living room with one of the pastors from our church. His Bible in his lap, and him sitting back against our sofa, he said, "People are going to say stupid things. They mean well, but they will say stupid things. The hard part is, you're going to have to let them." You're going to have to let them. Those words still echo in my mind. The truth is, no matter if you've experienced a serious trauma, a minor bump in the road, or a great day - people will say stupid things. And you're going to have to let them. I've said stupid things. And people have been gracious enough to let me. I am more aware, however (or trying to be, anyway), of the things I say to others in varying circumstances.
It's in our nature to want to take the hurt away from others. We aren't accustomed to, or equipped, to handle suffering, especially in other people. Just take it away, make it better, out with the bad in with the good, as quickly as possible so we don't have to be miserable or uncomfortable or stretched to any kind of new territory. So we do our best to encourage.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,
just as you are doing. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
I know I can't be the only person wired the strange way I am, so I'm going to assume some of you reading this may feel the same. Encouragement doesn't always mean "find the good in everything." I can be encouraged without frills, fluff, or other f words (see what I did there?).
We as people seem to be so hard-wired to "look at the bright side". Anything else makes us uncomfortable. Talking about dead babies makes people uncomfortable. Go figure, right? But there is no bright side some days. And the days I find hope or my heart fills, it isn't because someone gave me a cliche remark or a postcard phrase. It's because of something that happened that was so personal, so unique, I know it was the right time and situation for God to reveal that peace and hope to me.
Let me unpack this a little bit. Let's say you're driving to work and you get a flat tire. You're over an hour late, because you had to wait for AAA to come change your tire for you because you didn't think you'd ever need to know how to use a torque wrench, let alone carry one in your trunk. Driving around on your spare tire, you make it to the tire store where you now have to buy a new set of four to replace the one, so that the tread wears more evenly. Cha-ching. You finally make it to work and daycare calls because little Emily spiked a high fever. You can't drive your vehicle to go get her, so you borrow your co-worker's, who happens to have a child the same age so you can use their car seat, to go get Emily. Poor little sick Emily has to wait at work with you until your husband can come pick both of you up and take you home. After he arrives and you start to head home, she throws up in the car, and you decide to take her to the ER. Walking in to the ER with your sick child, the heel breaks on your shoe and you nearly take a spill in the parking lot. After waiting to be seen for a couple of hours, you finally get to see a doctor, who tells you it's a virus, and keep her pumped full of fluids. Husband takes you back home but you get a headache from the ride, because of the scented car cleaner he used to get the vomit out of the backseat. Once home, you decide to throw a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner. Your mom calls, and you're telling her about your day and you realize about ten minutes too late you forgot to turn the timer on. Dinner is burned to a crisp. By the time you crawl into bed, you are physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. You post as much on Facebook. Or you call your friend to tell them. As a response, you're met with a barrage of, "Tomorrow is a new day!" or "Stay strong!" or "Hard times call for harder prayers!" or "Someone always has it worse, be grateful for what you have!" Shudder.
But...they're just encouraging you, right? After all, we're called to encourage! I'm here to tell you, friends: Encouragement is not synonymous with dismissing the awful. That day I described above is a sucky day. I mean really sucky. If that day happened to me, the encouragement I would love from someone would be, "You had a crappy day. Beyond crappy, craptastic day. I am so sorry. What can I do?" Acknowledgement. Validation. Justification. Help. No platitudes, no cliches, no fake-it-to-make-it remarks. Genuine encouragement, for me, is a simple act of acknowledgement. It doesn't even have to be verbal. One of the greatest examples of encouragement that immediately comes to mind, is when one of my dearest friends locally found out we were having a boy and when I got home from work that day, she had hung a gift bag on our door. Inside that bag was a stuffed blue elephant with a little card. All the card said was, "Boys are awesome!" I wasn't distraught we were having a boy, but she knew it would be something that was different for us, especially after losing our daughter, and instead of sitting down and telling me all the reasons I should ditch princesses and pink, she offered a simple but invaluable method of encouragement. Acknowledgement.
For those of us who take a more spiritual approach to our encouragement, know this: There is a distinct difference in trying to restore the faith of someone who is suffering versus trying to encourage it. So often I'm offered statements as if I've lost my faith altogether. "God wants us to come to him and give him our troubles, bless your heart." I know that. I've done that. I'm doing that! Don't offer up a "I know this is hard, but give thanks it wasn't any worse!" Are you being serious right now? Is that honestly what you do when you experience something horrific and awful? How about instead, a "God's got this. You know He does. I'm gonna pray tomorrow is a better day for you than today was. He's listening to us, let's pray for that now." Don't give me chapter and verse simply because it's the only thing you can bring to mind. Give me real, applicable, relational conversation. Don't preach scripture at me, pray scripture with me.
Giving someone encouragement doesn't give you magical powers. You can't automatically make things better, take away the pain, make the day un-sucky, or whatever else. Encouragement is to build a person up, not make them feel guilty for being bummed or upset. Their day sucked? Buy them a Butterfinger blizzard with chocolate ice cream. They just found out their little baby has to have an operation, and they're scared to death something might go wrong? Don't tell them how many people you know of who have had nothing bad happen to them in the same situation. Acknowledge their fear, and offer up a prayer of protection over their baby. Pray for peace and reassurance and no complications. And buy them a Butterfinger blizzard with chocolate ice cream. They didn't get that promotion, or that committee appointment, or that big business deal they were hoping for? Tell them you think it's as much a bummer as they do, and ask them how you can encourage them to achieve the goals they've set for themselves. If they don't have any goals, offer to help them make some. Cheer them on in the life-race they're running. Hold them up in their faith battles. And by all means, buy them a Butterfinger blizzard with chocolate ice cream.
Looking back on your experiences, what encouragement have you appreciated the most? Was it the simple act of acknowledgement and friendship, or was it the phrase suggesting you see the positive? Maybe it was both.
And maybe this post was me doing nothing but saying stupid things....but you'll have to let me.
|My "Jar of Sunshine" that was made to encourage me when I returned to work after losing Harlynn. Each piece of candy was wrapped in scripture, or a personally written message from my friends and family members. |
One of the best things ever.