How To Comfort
Here is an example using an incident that is so unimportant as to be almost laughable but may help make a point. I arrived home on a hot summer afternoon with this announcement: “The air conditioning quit in my car on the way home.” To this mildly upsetting turn of events my wife said, “Well you better get it to the mechanic.” This was not a helpful idea, even though she thought it was constructive.
What would have helped me? Simply this would have worked: “That’s frustrating!” or just “Bummer.” Either of these brief responses would have said in effect, “I understand your irritation.” The advice to get it to a mechanic showed no empathy for my ordeal. It missed totally. “Bummer” is understanding, as is “Frustrating.”
Recently President George W. Bush visited the areas in Southern California where 3500 homes had been destroyed by raging fires and 22 people lost their lives.
He said he wanted to comfort those who lost so much. But he admitted, “All I can do is listen, hug, and be empathetic.” Our President showed a lot of understanding of the way comforting works.
In “Love Within Limits”, Lewis B. Smedes says this in his chapter about “Love Bears All Things”— “Some of the most dramatic relief comes when someone enters our lives and accepts our burdens as his. When persons truly share in their spirit a consciousness of our hurt or loss, and thus carry our sorrow, they carry some of it away from us.”
An ancient document asks “What is my only comfort in life and in death?” The answer given goes like this: “My only comfort is that I belong body and soul, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” (Heidelberg Catechism)
Belonging is the comfort. To be part of someone who cares totally, like Jesus, is where comfort resides. When we duplicate shadows and fragments of that kind of care, we will comfort.
This, of course, is what the Lord does. It is also what each of us can aspire to do too. Often it takes the form of “showing up” in difficult circumstances and listening to the laments, the details, the regrets, the shattered dreams, and everything else the stricken need to share. The closest formula there is for being a comforting friend is a caring presence — not a determination to fix things or to say cheering words, but intent on “walking with” (sitting with) the hurting.
Practically speaking, we do not go off to comfort people. No, we reach out to them to show our oneness, our pain for them, our concern, our shared heartache. We show we are part of them by hurting with them. If anything comforts that does.