I've seen the circle theory in this article before and thought it was excellent the first time and I still think it is. I first saw this article before my husband had cancer.
After his diagnosis, we lived what this article speaks against.
I've hesitated to write about this aspect of his cancer experience because I thought it made me sound ungrateful. I'm not ungrateful for the people who reached out during his illness, even those who said the wrong things (because they did reach out). I decided to blog about this in hopes that even one person might stop and listen to someone in a high time of need.
Just listen. Really listen.
The people who said the wrong things to us weren't listening....and that's why they said the wrong things. To truly listen, we have to realize it's not about us. Several different people took the news of David's illness as an opportunity to audibly list all the people in their lives who had died from cancer. Suddenly, we found ourselves having to comfort them, which we did, but it was so emotionally draining that instead of being encouraged by their visits and phone calls, we found ourselves hoping they didn't come back or call again. Then we felt guilty for feeling that way! The last thing we needed was guilt. Cancer takes a person's entire focus and all their energy. It's like a battle takes a Marine's entire focus. If he looks away, he stands to lose ground.
If those people had really listened, they could have learned how deeply fearful we were, how bewildering cancer can be and also how to love us through it. Instead, those people became "fringe" people in our lives because we didn't have what it took to constantly comfort them at the deepest point of David's battle for his life. Not only were their words hurtful and scary, their timing was the worst.
When reaching out to someone who is sick, listen with the intent to understand and show compassion.
Someone's illness or hardship is not your opportunity to recount your own losses,
fears or blessings.
Because we are all narcissists, this takes intent and practice. You can practice this today, with a friend or family member. Stop thinking about how you'll respond and simply listen with your full attention. You will be utterly amazed at what you learn about that other person. You will be utterly amazed at how you survived it not being about you.
Recently on social media, a friend posted a lament about his father who had died young. Soon after, someone replied with their gratitude that they still have both their parents and how blessed they are. That person wasn't "listening" to my friend's lament. If they really listened, they would have recognized it for what it was and expressed sympathy or empathy. Instead, they effectively minimized my friend's grief by expounding their personal blessings in the face of his grief. She used his grief as a platform to count her blessings. It's not wrong to count our blessings, but it's insensitive to do it in the face of someone suffering. This shows a lack of compassion. An appropriate response would simply be "I'm sorry." Nothing more needs to be said.
Would you tell a starving child how well you eat on a daily basis? I hope not! If you did, that child would not have what it takes to rejoice with you or for you because all that child is thinking about is whether or not they will get any meal in the near future. Save your praise for another time. Count your blessings in a closet with the door shut rather than in front of someone suffering. God hears you in either place and that's what matters anyway.
Also, recounting your blessings in the face of someone else's loss gives the indication that you believe you are more richly blessed than they are. Recounting your blessings in the face of someone suffering is nothing more than you displaying your narcissism with a wide-angled lens. The truth is, the person suffering is far more blessed than you because they are getting the opportunity to see the grace of God up close and personal. That is something very few get to view and it's oh, so precious that you might want to wish some horrible thing upon yourself in hopes of experiencing grace at that level. (Not really, I'm just saying that to show a point. Don't go thinking I believe anyone should wish or cause hardship upon themselves. Besides, God does not work that way.)
Grace that is greater, that's God's grace. We should all be so blessed to experience that.
As the authors of the article said, "You'll get your chance You can count on that."
Click here to read the article that prompted this blog post....then go forget about yourself and be a real comfort to someone who's suffering.
Jesus, when His friend Lazarus died, wept. He didn't tell Mary and Martha that other people had lost loved ones. He didn't tell them that He, Himself, was going to die a worse death (but He was). He did not chide them for their grief or even the frustration they had both expressed at Him ("If you had been here, our brother would not have died!"). He simply wept. (John 11)
Be like Jesus. Weep with those who weep. Just shut up and weep.