“Amy, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about comfort this year.” Patty said during one of our editor’s meetings for Velvet Ashes. We were planning out the spring and talking about this week’s theme of “comfort.”

Since her comment, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in recent years about comfort versus what I call a “comfort misfire.”

(I’m not normally violent or cuss; I’m bouncy and encouraging by nature. So I know it’s a misfire if I want to stifled violence or cussing after an attempt at comfort.)

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I did not want to become an expert on how to comfort people. I’d rather be an expert on how to drive fast safely or how to make the perfect peanut butter toast; but significant events turned me into a comfort expert.

Let me say up front I believe the intention have been honorable and to comfort me. However, it’s a tiny bit stunning how many people stink at offering comfort.

This is what I’ve learned:

1. The power of showing up. You don’t have to say or do anything profound. I think popular Youtube videos and Hollywood have warped out thinking in this area. If something isn’t big and spectacular or receives multiple likes and comments, it doesn’t seem worth doing. However, I’ve learned a text or a card, an email message, cooking a meal, making a phone call, coming to the hospital communicates comfort.

Job’s friends got this right when for the first seven days they showed up and sat with him. The problems started when they opened their mouths.

2. What you can say to me depends on who you are. If you are in my inner circle and know more than the average bear, you can say about anything and it will comfort. But if you’re not, please keep your comments generic.

“Isn’t it wonderful God knew your dad was going to die, so He had you in the U.S.” No, I want to snap, no it is not wonderful. The reason I’m in the U.S. is because I lost my voice and influence and began to die on the inside. Are you telling me God had me go through this crap so that I could be with my dad? Do you really think God could find no other way to get me in the same country as my dad than to crumble my life around me? I don’t believe God plays with us like a cat and mouse. Is he using what I’ve experienced for my good and to grow and refine me? Yes. But that’s different than what you said.

“I’m thankful you could be near your dad when he died.” Me too. That one comforts.

Multiple times I’ve been told, “It’s a good thing you’re a woman and not a man, because troubles in your job didn’t hurt you the way it would a man. You know how significant work is to a man.”

It takes all I have to stifle the rage I feel. “Are you (very colorful word) kidding me?” I want to ask; followed up by, “Do you really have no clue who I am? I am a single woman past childbearing years. Where do you think I’ve contributed my time, talents and effort? Oh right, my work.” If you cut me, I bleed. Like every human being. Don’t be an ass :). See what I mean about the opposite?

“Wow, I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced.” Ah, now I feel seen and known and comforted.

If you’re in someone’s inner circle, be there for him or her with your insights and comments. But if you’re not, keep it general and you’ll hit your goal of being comforting.

3. The final lesson is you don’t have to have walked the path to offer comfort. In God’s delightful comic sense of humor and connection, I am involved in Mother’s Day all year long. What God has shown me through the reactions to that post and the videos made from the prayer is this: the biggest part of comfort is creating space for connection not sameness.

I have probably over analyzed why the Mother’s Day post has been so popular. In essence it expanded the story of Mother’s Day from “Yay for Moms!” to “What’s your story?”

(Which by the way, includes, “Yay for Moms!”)

Your story and my story don’t have to be similar for us to be able to comfort each other. The key is: am I willing to hear what you’re saying without assuming I know what you’ll say.

And that right there might be the biggest lesson of comfort: Listen more than you talk. The most comforting question? How are you? This gives me the freedom to be as shallow or as deep as I’m comfortable with that day or with you.

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I know you care, I really do. This is one of the beautiful ways we are made in God’s image. He tenderly says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” My hope is that we keep growing in extending comfort to one another and to spare you the less than Godly responses I’ve had.

And by offering comfort, new life will grow and blossom.

What would you add to my list? What less-than-comforting things have been said to you?

Amy

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes and the theme of Comfort

Leave A Comment

  1. Elizabeth Trotter February 19, 2015 at 6:29 am - Reply

    Ok, I laughed at the title, “ways to comfort that don’t lead to feeling violent.” Then I majorly cringed at a couple of those statements. Eek! Must have taken a lot of effort to keep that rage inside!

    My husband’s parents both died when he was young, and he wrote this post as “advice” much like you wrote this one today. http://trotters41.com/2013/09/02/dont-be-afraid-of-me-please-and-other-lessons-from-the-valley/ I wonder if any of it resonates with you. . .

  2. Mark Allman February 19, 2015 at 6:38 am - Reply

    Well said Amy.

    I would say to never offer scripture to someone in deep grief… it hurts instead of helps I believe. If they are a Christian they don’t need to be insulted by telling them stuff they already know.

    If you are close enough look for something that may be needed and do it for them. Shine their shoes, do their laundry, wash their car…..

    Just be there ready to talk if they want to talk; ready to let them cry if they want to cry.

    It it is grieving over death then if you have something that meant a lot to you that the person did to share it with a family member can mean a lot.

    I hate when someone says “everything happens for a reason” to this I would say there would be no reason that could justify this happening. Also when someone says “I know how you feel” maybe but most likely not … to say that they are in effect minimizing your.

    I do think your presence and time are the most precious gifts you can offer ….. unless of course you can give them an unlimited bank account. :)

  3. Debbie Marshall February 19, 2015 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Thank you again, Amy
    I’m going to a memorial service today,
    and a family potluck and gathering after.
    This message is very timely for me.
    I so deeply felt the title that I opened and read the post (and some linked ones too) that I didnt realize I didnt have time to stop and read email this morning… feeling dazed …sigh.
    Thanks again. Happy Chinese New Year

  4. Suzanne O. February 19, 2015 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Shortly after my husband died (quite a long time ago) a friend dropped by. While we were talking I mentioned that I was thinking of giving my queen-size bed to my daughter and buying a new twin-size for me because my bedroom was pretty small. My friend responded with, “Oh, don’t do that! Enjoy the extra space while you can!” Really? Immediately after my husband died this same sweet (I really mean it) lady sent me a note: “…Today is the first day of the rest of your life. So pick yourself up, dust yourelf off and start all over again.” No joke. This note is at the top of my brain because I just recently came across a bagful of cards and letters that I received right after his death. Some of them were wonderful, from the heart, comforting. And then there were others. I was grousing about this to one of my sons and he said to me, “Yeah, but Mom, everyone is doing the best that they can. No one is trying be hurtful or clumsy or stupid, they’re just at a loss.” I’m glad he said that, even though I still think that note was pretty bad, Dave’s comment made me step back a little and show a little tenderness and compassion–just the thing I always want.

  5. Suzanne O. February 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Sorry, one more comment. You said that you don’t have to have walked the path to offer comfort. What’s also true is that even if you have walked the path, it doesn’t mean that you always know what to say that will bring comfort. I’ve had a significant amount of loss in my life and have always been so grateful for those offering real comfort. Yet, it amazes me how I can open my mouth to be healing and end up inserting one or both of my feet.

    For me, music, quietness, helpful acts like babysitting (my kids were 3, 4, 9, and 11 when my husband died), meals–anything you don’t have to supervise. “I’m so sorry,” were the three most helpful words. I also loved hearing stories about my husband, especially his crazy sense of humor. (More available upon request ;-)

    • Elizabeth Trotter February 19, 2015 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Suzanne, some of those responses were truly terrible, and I’m so sorry for them. :(

      I did, however, love how you love hearing stories about your husband, especially the funny ones. We are the same way with my husband’s parents, even the kids (who never knew either of them). We love the stories. YES, share the stories!

  6. Jessa February 19, 2015 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    The most helpful things people have said to me are “I love you,” and “I’m here” (with actual presence–please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.)

    I find it unhelpful, especially in the first days and weeks after a loss, when people say things like “Call me if you need anything,” or the slightly better, “What do you need?” I know people mean well, but I find it overwhelming to have to try to think of ways people can help. It’s easier if people make specific offers (“Let me cook a meal for you,” or “Can I sit with you for a while?”) that I can accept or politely decline than it is to get through the fog of grief to figure out what I need in those early moments.

    These what-not-to-say statements are specific to loss of a child… “God needed another angel,” and my personal favorite, “You can always have another baby.”

    My inner monologue: “Really? How do you know I’m able to have another baby? And since when are children interchangeable? Another baby can’t replace the child I just lost, and it’s unfair to me and my husband and any future child we may have to suggest it’s so.” Maybe that’s bitter of me. I don’t know. I know people just don’t know how to respond. But “I’m so sorry,” and “I love you and I’m here” are so much more comforting and less ire-inducing.

  7. Michele Womble February 20, 2015 at 7:07 am - Reply

    So much wisdom here in the post and the comments. I’m thankful for Amy’s advice about how to comfort – it’s so wise that how close you are determines what you can and can’t say. I also loved Suzanne’s reminder that even if you’ve walked the path, that doesn’t mean you know what to say. I’ve been on both sides of this (comforting and being comforted – we all have) and have experienced both good and bad comforted and unfortunately have probably given the same. (Although I’d like to hope I’ve never comforted someone poorly, but…) I appreciate Suzanne’s son’s comment – everyone is doing the best they can. Most of the time people aren’t trying to be insensitive, they want to help, they just don’t know how. It seems that the consensus is just be there – and as much as possible, don’t say too much.

  8. Brenda February 20, 2015 at 9:39 am - Reply

    I don’t believe God plays with us like a cat and mouse. Is he using what I’ve experienced for my good and to grow and refine me? Yes. But that’s different than what you said.

    **APPLAUSE**

    Thank you for this.

  9. Patty Stallings February 21, 2015 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Amy, I am so glad you answered the question of what you’ve learned about comfort! Words we all need to hear and walk out!

  10. Lauren Pinkston February 21, 2015 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Amy, this might be my favorite post of yours. I love the honesty, transparency, and truthful words so much. The “I don’t believe God plays cat and mouse with us” line particularly stuck out to me…I think sometimes we try to overstate what God is trying to do with us when really He just wants us to remember He’s there for us. Maybe I’m wrong…I don’t know. But I really appreciated your thoughts and reflections here. You’re a lovely soul.

  11. Julie B February 22, 2015 at 7:03 am - Reply

    Thanks Amy for your words on comfort. Loved reading about the things you have been learning this year.

    I always loved the line from friends who were comforting me regarding medical issues with one of our children,”God must have known you could handle this….and He knew I couldn’t.- so He gave this to you.” Really? That one always makes me want to scream!

    Yes…for sure we need to listen more than talk. Just sitting and being there with someone. That truly is comforting. And when you ask the question, “How are you doing?” – it’s not a rhetorical question….be ready to listen.

  12. Avatar photo
    Amy February 24, 2015 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you one and all! I love reading the comments AND have submitted a proposal to speak at a conference on this very topic (and I found out today i was accepted). So, I’m going to be using your ideas too! Thank you :)

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