Inspirational Articles

What We Do

Giving Comfort
By Monte Wilson

The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer
is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. 

--Simone Weil

The other day I was speaking with someone who is suffering terribly with an illness. During the course of the conversation, he said, “I rarely speak of my illness because I have no desire to be a downer or a whiner. But I also hate it when my well-wishing friends begin spouting off all their spiritual bon mots.” I know what he means. Why is it that we think saying something like, “There is always a rainbow after the storm,” is all that comforting to those who are suffering? “Riiiight,” they say to themselves, “but the pot at the end of the rainbow is going to be filled with medical bills.”

Some of the weirdest things you have ever heard are spoken in hospital rooms. It is as if you were in a room filled with people who had gotten their philosophy degrees in a Hallmark store. “Go with God and he will go with you.” “God is doing something very special in your life.” “With faith, you can take this lemon and turn it into lemonade.”

When we see someone suffering, it is the nature of love and care for us to want to do whatever we can to help alleviate the person’s pain. But what do we say, what do we do? Most of us simply say, “I am praying for you,” and then stand there in awkward silence.

The first thing friends need to remember is the physician’s oath: Do No Harm.  This is no time to be practicing medicine or performing exploratory surgery.  “Hey, I just read this great book…maybe it will help you.” And if you are going to say the suffering is the result of sin and that they will be healed if they repent, you had better be a prophet and know the specific sin that brought on the pain. But remember this: if they repent and the suffering remains…we stone false prophets.

I think we should also respect the sufferer’s right to choose his own counselor. If they do not ask for your counsel, don’t give it. Frankly, I think we should be cautious with any advice, even if we are asked.

We should also realize that the individual who is suffering is not a case study; she is a human being.  They don’t want to hear all the Bible verses we have memorized that relate to their suffering. Besides, while I do think the one who suffers should seek to remember that millions have suffered as they do, we should remember that every person’s suffering is unique to the individual. There are no pat answers, no one-size-fits-all remedies.

What do they want? What do they need? They want a friend who is simply there for them. We really don’t need to say all that much, other than that we love them and want to serve them in anyway possible. They don’t need any Hallmarkian philosophy. What they Do Need is for us to offer to Be There for them.