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Thanks! I Didn’t Ask.

Updated: Feb 26

TL;DR

Well-intentioned people offer unsolicted advice with pure motives and for a myriad of reasons, so learn how to graciously handle the inevitable.


Picture something with me. I would say to close your eyes, but you need them to read, soooo just use your imagination really hard. There's been something going on in your life for a while now. You have been dealing with it the best way you know how, although that seems less than adequate on the best days. You finally work up the courage to leave the house and get back into the routine, go the places you usually go, see the people typically see. Maybe you go to a birthday party or church or some sort of event where you have a consistent community. You are approaching the end of the event, and you think it has gone well for the most part. You have navigated your social setting well, you have only had a couple of semi-awkward exchanges (not bad, all things considered), but then it happens. You find yourself in a final conversation with someone who begins to "fix" you/your problem.


Probably unnecessary to play through the entire conversation. Maybe you have literally had this experience recently, and this is actually not a hypothetical scenario for you. For the sake of time (and your sanctity), fast forward through the convo. They have just finished waxing eloquent about the one thing you need to do that you clearly haven't thought about yet, becuase if you would have, then you would have already implemented said thing and solved your problem. You, overflowing with gratitutde for this good Samaritan who is clearly sent as a messenger from the Lord to right all of your personal wrongs, look at them with an open heart and a full soul and say, "Thabks! I didn't ask." Abbrasive? Probably. Rude? Possibly? True and what I wish I could say more often than I care to admit? Absolutely.


Mels and I (Marc) have learned a lot over the last few years. We only recently (within the last couple of weeks) finally received a diagnosis for her respiratory illness that has plagued us since month 2 of our marriage. The prognosis is good, although the road ahead is both costly and difficult, not to mention the whole process of grieving the sudden onset of a chronic illness, but that's a different blog for another day. So, yes, over those years we have learned some things. If we're being honest, we weren't always learning. There have definitely been some times of bitterness, frustration, anger, all of the parts of the grief cycle, and we certainly aren't through. One of the things that has been a recurring theme though is is that need people feel to fill the silence.


More than what we think are answers and solutions, the things that people need most during times of grief? Time, space, and presence.

Before you stop reading, because I offended you, just give me a sec. I get it. I do. I too want to help people. It's the whole reason that I am wrapping up my final semester in a counseling ministry program. It is a good thing to be there for others and to help them process through their hurt. Can I just say though that I have yet to see someone share some amazing quip, sudden profound inspiration, or even Bible verse that breathed life into their grieving friend. Rarely is the thing we share going to be THE thing, the gamechanger, the missing piece of the puzzle. More than what we think are answers and solutions, the things that people need most during times of grief? Time, space, and presence.


Time

Helpers, be patient with your grief-stricken friends. Everyone grieves in their own way. There aren't time limits. If you or anyone you know ever thinks, "hasn't it been long enough," stop. Just shove those thoughs deep down inside and don't ever let them see the light of day. Sometimes we will make huge strides in our healing, but it will also seem like a "1 step forward, 2 steps back" sort of thing. It takes time to traverse it, and as we go through it, We may feel great some days, seem to regress other days, and have to navigte a slew of triggers, some that will surprise even us.


There also aren't...I'm not sure how to say it, but..."best practies" when it comes to the ways we grieve. Sorry. I mean, obviously it is our goal to avoid sin as we process. I am more saying that the grief cycle is not a clear, easy, linear process. During that time, explore the things that help. They will change. There isn't one surefire thing to do that helps, AND when we find something that does not necessarily mean that it will be the only thing always. Journaling might help for a time, and then it might not. It might be beneficial for a time to ignore things; even escapism has its place. Sometimes we need to just go to work or do something, anything to keep busy, because we can not stand to dwell on things, while other times it is cathartic to talk about it. Like most things, both the experiences of grief and the ways we cope with and process it, change in seasons.


Space

Humbly, Sometimes you just need to leave us alone. Haha, I know that probably sounds like the second (at least) rude thing I have written. Just listen. Have you ever wondered why your friends who are really going through something don't respond to your texts for days at a time...if at all? It is not because we do not like you or that we don't value your friendship. On the contrary, we think you are a good friend, but we often feel like we do not have much to offer anyone else while we are in the midst of grief. One of our biggest fears is being alone, because we have pushed everybody away, but being around people in order to maintain those relationships that are so important to us just sounds exhausting sometimes.


In reality we are little Debbie Downers. We don't want to be that in social settings, yet the prospect of having to fake it while we are out and about or be someone we are not is borderline offensive to our sensibilites. It feels disingenuous, like we aren't being true to our own lived experience. Haha, seem like alot? Yeah, all that processes through our minds when someone asks if we want to grab coffee or go on a walk or show up to (insert family member)'s birthday.


Please, don't hear me say, "leave us alone." That's not really the point. The point is that it's complicated. We know that already, and one of the reasons that we isolate is that we do not want to inconvenience you with what we also consider complicated and inconvenient. Just be patient with us and try to keep reaching out without taking offense. It isn't personal.


Presence

If you are willing to be silent and enter into our discomfort with us, you can be present and minister to our weary souls by simply being. Knowing we don't have to perform or host or keep conversation going, or feign positivity is liberating; it genuinely lightens the load that we sometimes hesitate in sharing. Silence is golden. Don't feel the need to fill the silence or fix the problem; you don't need to save us from anything. This is what it means to participate in a ministry of a presence. One of my favorite thinkers on grief and shame, Dr. Brene Brown, has said of this, "An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness...these moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time."


Just as a sidenote, when we do get to have conversations and fill that silence, strike the words, "at least," from your vocabulary. Borrowing from Dr. Brene Brown again, she explains that those two words are the least empathic words you can communicate to somebody. They are born from a good place. Usually we want to offer comfort and reframe the situation or redirect our friends to focus on the silver linings. When we do that, we can inadvertantly invalidate the experience altogether. We also know that there are still good things in existence and even in our worlds, but we are still sad about the things that have gone wrong, and that's okay.


"...these moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time."

Another phrase that accidentally ends up doing the same thing? "I know exactly what you're going through." You don't know exactly what anyone is going through or how they feel, so stop saying that. Your life is different, your family of origin is different, the way you process is different, even if the situation is identical, your experience of it will be different. There are just too many factors for it to even be possible for you to know exactly what someone else is going through. Again, it is born from a good place. We want to ease our friends' suffering and let them know that they aren't alone. Certainly you can relate to experiences and console, but you don't need to tell us that it is exactly like what you experienced.


If you are like me, then you probably get to this point and wonder, "okay, great...so I what? Just don't talk to you ever again, because you're sad or going to be sad if I quote a line from the wrong movie on the wrong day of the week?" Nope, not at all. At the risk of sounding cliche, I would encourage you not to give up and not to take it personally. Don't give up on reaching out to your friend. We need you, more than we can explain or sometimes even recognize ourselves. You help. When we can't (that's right. I said, "CAN'T," not "don't want to,") respond, becuase it's too difficult, and the pressure to perform for you seems overwhelming, resist the urge to be offended.


Oh and if you feel like I have taken away some of the phrases you reach for when you are trying to be comforting, don't panic. "I'm sorry," and "I don't have any idea what you're going through, but I'll be here," are some of the most comforting things you could every communicate to someone. It actually accomplishes what we try to when we say things like, "at least;" it validates their lived experience, and it communicates that you will not leave nor forsake them. It conveys that your love is not predicated upon them meeting your expectations of reciprocation right now; it isn't love that is earned or merited but given freely without condition.


"It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking, and it comes from your most human part: hope."

"We GET To"

If we're speaking honestly about reciprocation in relationships, people who are grieving make bad friends. Sorry about it. We are needy, and the relationship seems one-sided...because it is. If it seems messy...it is. If my boss were here, she would remind me that it is a commonuty that we GET TO be a part of. She is great at framing challenges as opportunities and reminding us to use those two words as often as we can. To quote not just my boss, but also a great philosopher of the twentieth century, Professor Charles Xavier, "It's the greatest gift we have: to bear their pain without breaking, and it comes from your most human part: hope." - Professor Charles Xavier


So, welcome to true, real community. We get to do life together and participate in one another's healing journies. It's scary, messy, and takes a lot of time, energy, and work. It's the sort of community that makes it worthwhile though and the sort of community that God has in mind to help us weather the storms of life. This is what it means to mourn with those who mourn.


That may have been a lot for my non-grieving, conversation having friends, but what about all of you Negative Nellie's out there, (You're welcome, Nancy)? What do we do? Well, call me lazy or uninspired, but I think the advice boils down to the same thing: don't give up, and don't be offended.


Don't give up

It's fine to take some time alone, but too much is dangerous. No man is an island. We were designed to exist within community, and I believe with all of my soul that it is the context where genuine healing happens. In point of fact, isolation as we have mentinoed is generally not a tactic of God when it comes to breaking the chains that bind us; the enemy on the other hand loves to keep us bogged down and alone.


Don't be offended

Strive to reframe the situation from offense taken to grace offered, and learn together. People aren't purposefully insensitive...for the most part, and if you find yourself spending time with people who are, find better friends (kidding...kinda). When friends don't know what to say or do or they say or do the wrong things, practice taking it in stride. Maybe even find some teachable moments for both of you along the way.


Strive to reframe the situation from offense taken to grace offered, and learn together.

This is going to be one of the most controversial things I have said, but maybe we all learn to communicate better. Maybe we ask clarifying questions and speak plainly. Maybe we learn to ask, "Were you looking for me to offer you any advice, or can I just be with you?" Maybe we learn to say, "I'm not even looking for a response. I just need to be seen and heard by someone right now," before we even start downloading everything in our minds, Maybe, just maybe as we start to practice little things like that, we will have fewer and fewer ocassions where we want to say, "Thanks! I didn't ask."

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