Friday, June 03, 2011

On Trite Sayings & Christian Cliches: Salve versus Salt

I made a the following comment in my last Adoption Update:
Trite sayings (it will all work out in the end) and Christian cliches (It's all in His timing) are more annoying than helpful (just a little brutal honesty there).
I've had multiple conversations over this comment.  Some were apologies from those who were afraid they had done this (which if you are worried, don't sweat it).  Many were those who have walked through trials or tough times and were simply saying "Amen" or "Thank you for saying that."

One was from a friend who has walked this adoption path before us.  Another was a dad who just found out his 2 1/2 year old was autistic.  There was also the one who had recently walked through a divorce.  In all cases, they echoed what I've been feeling.
  1. We know that for the most part, everyone is well-intentioned when offering up their words of encouragement or advice.
  2. We know that God's timing is perfect, his ways aren't ours, that He's in control, that "this too shall pass", and on and on.
  3. We don't want to get annoyed with this encouragement and/or advice.  For some reason, it feels like salt instead of salve on a wound.
So, as a guy who's walked through three valleys (nearly 7 years infertility, death of dad, current adoption wait), and a guy who has had to be present in multiple valleys, here's some thoughts on what words can serve as salve:

  • "I'm sorry," "This is tough," "This sucks, man" etc.  It's the phrases that simply recognize that a person is walking through the tough times.  Here's the key though, leave it at that.  No additions.  What we often what to do is say "I'm sorry, BUT..." and then we throw in the added thoughts.  These added thoughts may be completely true and valuable advice.  The problem is that the BUT overshadows the identity with the pain, and empathy, sympathy and compassion can be quickly lost.

  • "I'm praying for you."  I'm not saying you should say this if you aren't or don't plan to pray.  If you are willing to, it's amazing what this does.  First, the statement is a statement that says, "I stand beside you."  Second, it says all that needs to be said as far as encouragement or advice.  You are lifting that person up to the One who is in control, who will work things out, etc.  Third, there's something supernatural that is at work as you pray.  I can't explain it, but I've experienced.  I have and even now feel the prayers of those lifting me up in tough times.

  • NOTHING.  Seriously, say nothing.  I'm not saying avoid the person.  Actually, make sure they know you are there, but let your presence speak instead of your words.  One of my favorite parts of the story of Job is the moment when his friends first show up after he gets everything stripped away from him...
    Job 2:13 - Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
    I love it.  The power of presence.  Interestingly, this is about the only thing Job's friends did correctly.  When they decided to open their mouths, they gave Job terrible advice and thoughts.  Sometimes, it's a hand on a shoulder or a hug.  Sometimes, it's just looking someone in the eyes and giving him/her a nod.
 I am beyond grateful and amazed at the many who have come alongside us in multiple ways.  We greatly appreciate those who authentically care.  These are merely thoughts running through my head right now and reminders to myself as I seek to love my neighbor as myself.


    Phil Strahm said...

    How about "May I pray for you right now?"

    Too often we aren't intentional enough with our prayers!

    Small Town Girl said...

    Didn't read this until this morning. I hope I didn't say those things last night, but since I say so much, I can't remember everything I say. So to clarify, "It sucks. I kind of understand, but not to the degree of what you are going through. I'm praying."

    derryprenkert said...

    Your good Shelley. It was great talking to you!