Regarding Grief, Sickness and Depression: Hold Your Tongue and Offer Your Heart Instead by Heather Plett
This is a topic I’d like to see addressed more often on some of the other spiritual abuse blogs out there. The link to the Plett-authored essay is much farther below. I wanted to say a few words first.
Many Christians are either too lazy, too selfish, or too inept at assisting someone who is walking through grief.
After my own mother died a few years ago, no Christians were there for me, and it still shocks and saddens me to this day.
When I did muster the courage to phone or to open up to Christians (some church people, some were relatives, all of whom were ages 45 and on up), I was not met with compassion and empathy.
Rather, I was met with cliches, sunny-sounding platitudes, criticism, judgmentalism, people who downplayed my grief (by comparing it to someone else’s pain in life and saying my grief was nothing).
Yet other Christians I tried speaking to about my grief were visibly uncomfortable and felt awkward dealing with someone (such as me) openly expressing pain to them, or crying in front of them.
Other Christians gave me a lot of unsolicited advice (such as “go volunteer at a soup kitchen”), or who insultingly and insensitively depicted my grief as being a form of egotism or self absorption, who would tell me to “stop having a pity party” – none of this made me feel better, but only served to compound the pain and made me feel more isolated.
After my mother’s passing, I didn’t come across a single Christian who actually practiced James 2:14-17 or Romans 12:15. but oddly, they all claim to be “Bible believers” who love Jesus of Nazareth, you know, the very same Jesus who said (Luke 6:46),
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
Yes. Why do you claim to believe in Jesus and respect the Bible but cannot be bothered to actually follow his, or its, teachings? I’ve yet to figure this one out.
My confusion was intensified because my mother was the sort of Christian who actually DID things for people in need, such as scrub the homes of sick neighbors, or drive elderly neighbors to doctor’s appointments, and so on. That was the sort of Christianity I witnessed growing up (and that I lived out myself, due in part to my mother’s example), not this lazy type I’ve been seeing from so many since my mother passed away.
But oh, how many Christians liked to quote Romans 8:28 at me in the years after Mom’s passing, which is now a Bible verse I loathe and detest.
(Romans 8:28 is the Christianized version of the secular platitude, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”)
I was simply needing someone to be there for me and with me – to just sit beside me and watch TV. To allow me to phone them up for 30 to 60 minutes every other month and talk about the grief, or to break down and cry.
Here is one of the best essays I’ve seen that advises people on how to behave or to help someone who has cancer or who is under going grief:
Hold Your Tongue and Offer Your Heart Instead by Heather Plett
…After Mom died, I got messages from other well-meaning people who thought they knew how I should deal with my grief. One person even reprimanded me for sharing my grief as openly as I did on my blog. She thought that I, as a public person, had an obligation to my readers to write with more positivity.
…Good Intentions, Bad Impact
The advice didn’t have the intended impact. It made me feel small and judged.
…I worked through those reactions, and then I wrote a blog post called ‘My heart is broken, but please don’t try to fix it.’ Grief, after all, is not something that can be ‘fixed’ with platitudes and second-hand advice. It’s a journey we all must take in our own way.
…Why Advice Doesn’t Help
Does unsolicited advice ever help fix a problem? I can’t think of a single time that it has.
…But unsolicited advice isn’t really about the person we’re offering it to – it’s about US. It’s about our own need to be the hero, to be the fixer, to be useful. We prop up our own self-esteem by being the person with the solutions.
Fixing other people’s problems, even when they don’t ask us to, is also about our discomfort with being in the messiness and leaving things unresolved.
If we can offer a solution that fixes another person’s problem, then we can live in an illusion that the world makes sense – that A+B=C, that every question has an answer, every illness has a cure, and everything broken can be fixed.
…Being OK with NOT Fixing
It feels so much easier to offer a fix and then walk away with our illusion of a world that makes sense, than it does to sit in the messiness and be a witness.
What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say By Edith Zimmerman