Monday, April 30, 2012

That Person is Hurting: But I Have NO Clue What to Say!

I don’t know what to say…I hear this all of the time in reference to communicating with people that are hurting.  People frequently tell me that they are hesitant to go see someone that is seriously ill, or an individual that is grieving a loss. I have been reminded this past week that only one question is needed.  No other communication is necessary.

All that you need to say is: How are you? That is all. There is no need for extended commentary regarding the person’s illness or theological reflection on the promise of eternal life. It is really not necessary to tell someone that heaven gained another angel.  Only one question is called for in such a setting. But I must add an essential dimension to this phrase.

When we ask someone how they are, we need to mean it. In other words, we need to ask it with sincerity and wait for an answer. We have to feel pretty comfortable with the ensuing silence that may very well occur. I think looking someone in the eye coupled with appropriate touch makes all of the difference when posing such a question.

In the past couple of weeks, I have experienced loss and the stress associated with watching three of my friends face life threatening illnesses.  It has been stressful to be sure.  The support of kind friends has been beyond description. But here is what stands out to me: I have been asked on more than one occasion: how are you?  Each time it was posed I knew that the person doing the asking awaited an answer patiently and compassionately. 

There is something very affirming about that simple process of communication. That question posed by a person of unquestioned sincerity brings comfort and peace when life is stormy and unpredictable.  I am grateful for good friends today.  And I am inspired to be quick to ask good questions. I am feeling prompted to be even faster to shut my mouth, as I patiently await a reply.  How are you?  It is a pretty good phrase. 

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