Ever had those nervous moments such as waiting for your turn to face the interview panel or being the next in line for a stage performance? Clammy palms, fidgety toes, twirling hair ends or biting nails?? Been there?
And did you feel better if someone came by and wrapped an encouraging arm around you or gave you an encouraging pat on the back? I bet you did feel a lot better!
Humans need comfort at varying times. Stress, anxiety, disease, worry, financial debt, death – all call for comfort and consolation. At times just a silent presence is the best comforter for an aching soul. While at other times, words or acts of comfort are necessary.
Well rehearsed words of comfort or a gesture of formality serve to console the speaker/doer more than the person(s) in need for comfort.
As I write this, I am reminded about a person called Job mentioned in the Bible:
He lived in a place beyond present-day Euphrates. Job has been described as a man who was ‘blameless and upright, and the one who feared God and shunned evil.’ He was a wealthy and respectable man with a happy family. However, in one day he lost his enormous wealth by natural and human hazards. As if that was not enough, all his ten children died at one go when the house in which they were feasting together, collapsed. To add to his misery, Job developed a horrible skin disease and his body was covered with stinking sores. Instead of standing by him during these tough times, his wife taunted him saying, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job’s pain and suffering was intense.
At this juncture, three of his friends who got the news of Job’s misfortune came to visit him together to mourn with him, and to comfort him. But when they saw Job from far, they could not recognize him. At this they lifted their voice and wept. They could not believe their eyes! So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.
After these seven days of silence, each of them spoke up – lengthy speeches. Each of them jumped to various conclusions. The common essence of their speeches was that – only the wicked suffer this way and that Job was suffering because he had done something wrong. They repeatedly encouraged Job to admit his wrong and repent so that God would put an end to his suffering and bless him again. After hearing them out, Job says, “What miserable comforters, all of you!”
Oftentimes, aren’t we quick to jump into conclusions on seeing people in distress? At times, yes the wrong-doing of the person may have led to disastrous consequences. But, that is not always the case. As in Job’s case, we see later, that it was a test of his faith and uprightness and not a punishment for any wrongdoing.
We do not have the answer to all the whys of life – in our own lives and in those of others. A newly married girl loses her husband – why? The much awaited baby is born with a fatal disease – why? Cancer robs a little girl of her loving father – why? A family travelling for a good cause die in accident – why? Parents shot dead in a case of burglary, leaving the children as orphans – why?
Well, we don’t have the answers to events that God in His Sovereignty permits to happen, though He never causes them. ‘Why do bad things happen to good people’ is an often asked question. There is a book by this very name written by a Jewish Rabbi named Harold S. Kushner in which he tries to reason out and come to terms with the death of his son at the age of 14 in 1977 of the incurable genetic disease, Progeria.
Reasons are not always necessary to comfort and console others – a heart of compassion is.
Bear in mind the following when attempting to comfort and console anyone in distress:
- Do not attach meaning to any event just by looking at the surface of it
- Pause and put yourself in the same situation
- Do not be hasty to speak too much
- Do not add spice to sad events and spread them all around
- Even if the consequence is a clear action of wrong doing, do not jump to get the credit for pointing it out
- Speak the language of comfort that the person would understand – silent presence, a warm comforting hug, actions of comfort, few non-judgemental words of consolation
- Do not accuse.
- Do not point to generational flaws (mistakes of parents or grandparents)
- Do not be hasty to provide solutions
- Make your presence a balm of comfort for the suffering person
- Allow the person to give a vent to his/her feelings (may be shouts of anger, tears of sorrow, denial, stoic silence)
- There isn’t an apply-to-all-situations formula for comfort. So, act according to the situation.
- Most importantly, pray for the person. The God of comforts will provide the peace that passes all understanding.
Anti-depressants, comfort foods, alcohol, drugs and other various addictions never bring the comfort that the heart requires. They, at best, numb the pain for a while. If you are hurting today and there is none to comfort you, I want to assure you that your Creator cares for you and will make Himself known to you if you lean on Him.
Let us be alert towards hurting people around us – in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods and even our helpers. It doesn’t cost to comfort. Rather it is richly rewarding to restore a soul from the depths of distress to the heights of relief!