A Beautiful Response to Pain

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed I have a penchant for going on what might be described as ‘Twitter rants.’ This actually isn’t by design; it usually starts with one thought and then I keep responding in some sort of strange stream-of-consciousness flow until I realize that I should probably being writing whatever it is as a blog post instead.

Honestly, this happens mostly at night. To explain why that’s the case would be an entire post in itself, so for now I’ll just give you a specific example. A few nights ago, I posted this series of tweets:

  “Got asked how I’m always posting such hopeful/encouraging things, so here’s my honest answer: I post most when I’m struggling the most.”
  “I say things I need to hear, believing that someone else needs to hear them too. I have to believe I’m not alone if I believe it for you.”
  “This is 100% why most of my long tweet-rants are at night, because nighttime is the hardest for me. Maybe it is for you too.”
  “Anyway, I put hopeful words into the world for both of us, for me & you. Neither of us is alone, both of us are loved. Both of us matter.”

In the middle of this series of tweets, I received the following text message:

  “I have no idea what to say but I’m always available to listen.”

While this might not seem like a profound message to received, here’s the thing: I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I really believe it’s the single best response I’ve ever received in the midst of struggling, because it’s beautiful on several levels:

For starters, it doesn’t offer a solution. So often, we want so desperately to help each other that we rack our brains to find some kind of solution or fix for things. In a world of politicians offering cheap soundbites and churches offering tweetable sermons, it seems like we’re often missing the capability to just sit with someone in the tension. In fact, a study of crisis help lines showed that 70-90% of the responses of the people on the receiving end of those calls offer advice.

Whether we like it or not, much of life is messy and grey instead of a neat black-and-white. We have to accept that there’s not always a quick-fix or tidy solution. Rachel Held Evans describes it beautifully when she says this:

    “..what [people] find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try and fix it, to try and make it go away. Bible verses are quoted, Assurances are given, Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure.
But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

The hard part of this is that it requires personal sacrifice. It takes sacrificing our own comfort and entering into someone’s unsure, messy world (cough: like Jesus did.) It also takes sacrificing the notion that we can solve or fix much of anything. This might be an even bigger thing to give up, especially if you’re the type of person that loves being a ‘fixer.’ The real truth of it is this: it takes a better leader and a bigger person to sit with someone in their pain than it does to offer solutions and advice. (Tweet this!) This requires real, Christ-like sacrifice, and it’s much less likely to make someone feel like they’ve failed when your well-intentioned advice doesn’t work.

Similarly, it doesn’t pretend to understand. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to relate to something they obviously don’t fully grasp. This is why youth are notoriously standoffish to older people trying to be cool or talk about issues with them: they can see through it from a mile away.

I remember when my wife and I were first dating, we had conversations about her parents’ divorce that had happened when she was in middle school. As much as I wanted to understand what that felt like and the emotional effect it had (and was continuing to have) on her, there was no way I could: my parents are still married. It was one of the most frustrating things to me: I wanted more than anything to be able to understand and relate to this huge part of her story, and I simply couldn’t. Eventually, I had to let go of the thought that maybe I could, and just listen and learn from what she was saying.

This, again, is a huge sacrifice. It’s an admission we don’t make very often today: ‘I don’t know.’ To look at someone and say ‘I have no idea and what’s more is I will probably never have any idea’ is an admission of something we can’t do, which is never our first instinct.

But for all the things this text message doesn’t say, it does say just as many.

It says ‘you are not alone.’

It says ‘Maybe I can’t fully understand your pain or solve your pain or even have a great response to your pain, but I am here. I am here to sit and listen and exist in this space with you no matter how hard that is for me. I am here with you in the uncertainty and the hurt and the darkness. I am here and because I am here, you are not alone.’

And those things, those simple statements, are invaluable.

More and more, I’m coming to believe that simple statements of bold love into one another’s pain do more for the Kingdom than the best laid plans and solutions. We need each other to speak love simply and tangibly more than we need another conference or worship event. We need real willingness to sacrifice comfort for community more than we need another book or podcast on solving the issues.

We need community.

We need love.

We need each other.

So next time you see someone hurting and think ‘I’d love to help, but I have no idea where to start,’ know this: you might be exactly where you should be. Take a breath, admit you don’t know how to fix it, and then speak love anyway. (Tweet this!)

It might be the best response they’ve ever gotten.