Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sometimes nothing is best

Let me pass on to you all some of the best advice I ever received. It was given to me in the context of counseling hurting people; but I have found it useful in many situations. The advice is simple. When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.

Whether sitting in the ICU waiting room with a mother whose daughter just died, or comforting young parents after a stillbirth, to listening to someone pour out the unfairness of life to them, our tendency is to try to offer answers. We want to calm, to soothe, to comfort. Too often we try to counsel so with words that pass blame to others. We offer up explanations for things we cannot and never will understand.

Instead of offering answers, hear beyond the questions. Instead of placing blame, share the hurt. Don’t think that some words must be better than none. Being willing just to listen. It is ok not to have answers.

Let us learn this lesson with Job: God is not at all offended by our questions and doubts, but we may not get answers. Humanity may have advanced over the centuries, but there is and always will be much we do not understand. Let us also learn with Job that God’s presence and blessing do not depend on our understanding.

You don’t have to have answers to listen to questions. You do not have to have solutions to share the weight of problems. Listen. Be there. Many times, this is enough. The one who listens never ends up with one’s own foot in one’s mouth!


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