I planned to write about comforting the sorrowful and I am sorry to say, I just don’t feel like it. Inevitably it would have to be sad, and I just scored a 103 point word on my Words With Friends game so I am feeling too smug for sad.
Ah, but that’s the thing about sorrow, it can be sneaky and come along in a moment and eclipse the sunniest (or smuggest) of days.
A few weeks ago, I was going to lunch with my mom and my boys when I learned that a friend of mine’s mother died unexpectedly. I was stunned and momentarily speechless. Tears of deep sorrow began to spill onto the sidewalk outside of the restaurant. Of course, I didn’t want to cry in front of my children and knew a public lunch was no longer an option. So I headed back to my car to wait for my mom and children to get take out when a man stopped and asked if he could talk to me.
Of course, I was skeptical. I have seen enough Dateline and 20/20 to know that “can I talk to you for a minute?” really means “I would like to chop you up into tiny pieces and put you in my freezer.”
Unbeknownst to me, he had seen my reaction to this unexpected death. “I saw how upset you got back there,” he said. “Is everything okay? Is there something I could do for you? ”
Now, isn’t that the 103-point question?
What can I do to comfort the sorrowful?
I felt horrible that my friend’s mom had died. I saw her regularly and she was dear to me. I would miss her, but my sincere sorrow was insignificant compared to what my friend must have felt losing her mother. I badly wanted to do something to ease her pain. I hated how helpless I felt knowing her loss was profound and (even worse) permanent.
I hugged her, held her hand, tried to make her laugh, listened and baked her banana bread. She asked for prayers and I prayed. She asked me for a lawyer to look into some possible malpractice by her mother’s doctor. I told my husband who is an attorney, to find her the best. I even called the lawyer for her because she was so overwhelmed. It wasn’t what I would think of as far as comforting someone, but it was what she needed.
This past week, a family friend died. While I can’t say it was unexpected, as she had been ill for some time, it was no doubt sad. So once again, I was faced with that 103-point question – how do I comfort the sorrowful?
In this case, I was asked to help write the eulogy that my friend had drafted. She was understandably overwhelmed and obviously wanted to do justice to her loved one. I remember when I was tasked with writing my uncle’s eulogy when he passed away unexpectedly, I didn’t want to do it. I was sad and shocked. My heart ached and I didn’t want the assignment of writing a biography. Yet, in the end it was such an honor to comfort my aunt and cousins with my carefully chosen words.
Still, I knew the pressure my friend felt, and I wanted to help. Her words of thanksgiving and praise for my efforts were such a comfort to me because they meant I had done something for her when I badly wanted to do whatever I could to ease her heartache. It somehow made me feel better.
You see, sorrow is a spectrum and we all fall into different places on the continuum depending on the situation. It is indeed a helpless feeling when someone we care about is sad. I think most of us genuinely want to do something –anything to ease some of the burden of sorrow. I don’t know if that is inherent in us or if it’s just because we know how horribly painful some of our losses have been and can’t stand the thought of someone else going through the same thing.
As much as I want life to be joyful for all of us, it’s not. None of us are going to get through this world unscathed. There are no doubt great joys on earth, simple pleasures, cherished moments and genuine love. But there is also death, devastation, disease and despair.
This isn’t heaven. I think we sometimes feel so entitled to goodness that we forget that we are not here for our own pleasure, pursuits and passions, but to serve God. We can’t just skip ahead to the good stuff of eternal life. That happens in God’s time, not ours.
For our part, I think we have to choose joy every chance we get. I think we have to seek joy in the small things and share joy with people in our lives.
Life is hard. At times, it’s hell. It’s at these times, when joy feels the farthest away that we inadvertently rely on it the most. Joy fills our memories and comforts us; it offers glimpses of hope and reminds us of love’s power to endure. Ultimately, comforting the sorrowful isn’t about sadness as much as it’s about sharing the joy of God’s love.
When sorrow comes, we have to be there for one another– in whatever capacity is required of us. We have to pull each other through the darkness until the pivotal day that we no longer know the world’s sorrows and bask in the warm glow of God’s perpetual light.
Thankfully, that man who came up to me wasn’t an axe murderer. He was a stranger who saw someone hurting and offered compassion. I have since run into him again, and while I was embarrassed to acknowledge my vulnerability that day, I was happy to have the chance to thank him for his incredible kindness. He seemed grateful for my words, just as I felt gratitude for being able to comfort those dear to me over the past few weeks.
So the answer to the 103-point question, how can I comfort the sorrowful, can be answered in one word — love. When I think about the answer, the point value escalates exponentially.
Now that’s something to feel smug about.