Flying Lessons

“God takes us into the depths so that we may reach the heights.” I thought that sounded pretty good. I patted the shoulder across the corner of the kitchen table with what I thought was a comforting sort of pat.

“I don’t even know what that means,” he said, shrugging his shoulder out from underneath the next pat about to land on it.

“Romans 8:28, God works all things to the good, and all that. You know the verse.”

“I’m hurting here and you’re dropping Scripture bombs on me?”

“What’s wrong with Scripture?” That sounded defensive even to me so I added, “It’s God’s word.”

“I know that. Doesn’t mean your platitudes are helping any.” He leaned over even further in his chair, chest practically resting on his lap.

“They’re not my platitudes,” I said, trying again, “they’re God’s.” That didn’t come out right.

He looked at me sideways and then dropped his head again. In a voice barely audible over the hum of the refrigerator, “Whatever they are, I don’t want them.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to help here.” I’d lost all pretense of hiding my defensiveness.

“I know. But you’re not.” He gave me another sideways look, but this time with just a hint of a curve at one corner of his mouth, maybe a smile and maybe a sneer. “Try something else.” Back down went his head.

I sat there, stumped, silent.

“That’s a start,” he said.

More silence. Then a small groan and a soft sob, and those unpatted shoulders started rocking up and down slowly. I stood up and moved behind him, resting my hands lightly on his back as he wept into his lap.

“God, if we can’t come to you for comfort, I don’t know where we can turn.” I stopped, not knowing what else to say, or if to say anything else, or if I should have said even this much.

More silence, then, “That’s good too,” came the muffled voice from his lap.

So I prayed some more. For him. And for me.

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27 Responses to Flying Lessons

  1. bekster081305 says:

    What a beautiful story. Comforting someone else who is hurting is one of the hardest things for me to know how to do. I probably would have said the same things at first and gotten the same results. I have learned from various interactions with people in the midst of problems that I am an optimist, which is great for my own outlook but terrible for dealing with someone who is already upset. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes the best thing we can do is just to stop talking (and pray).

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Becky. The story is a mish mash of my own past experience (giving and receiving ends of this) and some reading I’ve been doing and just thoughts that ran through my head. Job’s friends talked a lot and were called miserable comforters. I wonder what he would have labeled them if they’d continued in silence or put their hands on him and prayed?

  2. janehinrichs says:

    Honest and thoughtful. I think this probably happens to all of us Christians sometime or another. God has to remind us to just quit talking often. I was told five days ago by my teenage daughter, “You’re going to use the Jesus card? Really?”

    That time I said yes because she wasn’t hurting. She was just mad at having to do something she didnt’ want to do. I have learned so much with my teens — most of the time they just need accepting silence from us (acceptance of them, love of them — not necessarily with whatever they are talking about…but they don’t need to hear that — if they are talking to you that is a victory.).

  3. Lyndsay says:

    Very good stuff.

  4. Mary Anne says:

    Er, yeah. This. I’m going through some very intense suffering on several fronts at the moment—lots of anger and frustration—and platitudes do NOT help. I think of a For Better or for Worse comic strip where the dad hands his son a lot of platitudes when the son is going through difficulties with a teacher, and clueless dad proclaims, “Someday you’ll realize the strictest teachers were the best!” Son walks away thinking, “Why do they always talk about ‘someday’ when I’m trying to live through now?”

    Another one I hate is, “Well, you know, we live in a fallen world.” Here are my comebacks:

    “Yeah, well, I didn’t push it!”
    “Yeah, and I’m sick of it falling on me and the people I love.”

    And the big gun, usually directed at God:

    “It’s a fallen world? Well, PICK IT UP!”

    There needs to be a special ministry course in what NOT to say . . .

    • Tim says:

      Mary Anne, I am so sorry that you are going through such a hard time. One comeback I’d like to drop on those who hit me with Scripture bombs is Ecc 5:3 – “… many words mark the speech of a fool.” I know they’re just trying to help, but sometimes the fewer words the better. A special ministry course on the subject would be awesome.

      Praying for you now,

  5. KSP says:

    That’s a lot of wisdom in very few words.

  6. michellevl says:

    I don’t need more words thrown at me as if I’m a dartboard when I am in a crisis. I need someone to stand with me and pray for me while I weep.

    Well told, Tim – an always-needed reminder about the power of empathy, which in the hands of a believer, incarnates Christ in a situation in a way that Bible verse roulette never will.

  7. Aimee Byrd says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  8. LLM says:

    I appreciate this Tim. Recently I had a stressful issue and shared it with 2 different friends. The 1st one immediately shot back with advice and the “tone” of it also made me feel condemned. It was not helpful at all. The “advice” made me feel like my problem wasn’t a problem but I’d made it into one. Then I decided to share with another friend – wow, total difference. This friend did give a little advice…but there were a couple big differences. She carefully listened to me, and I felt “heard”. She also acknowledged my stress and said she’d be stressed if she was in my situation. That was somehow very validating! And then she did give a little advice, but after being “heard” and “validated”, the advice came across in a totally different way than my other friend. I felt some peace and relief.

    So yes….when friends are in a difficult situation….talk less and listen more. Acknowledge their pain. Just be a presence – hold their hand or give a hug. Pray.

    • Tim says:

      “talk less and listen more.” Well said, Laura. It’s like that old thing about how we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately!

  9. Mary Anne says:

    Oh, and here’s another: when I’m in trouble and grieving and up to my chin in trouble and disappointment and feeling that God has abandoned me, do NOT tell me all about your miracle blessings, or how you had my illness too, but “I claimed my healing and now I’m all better!” or tell me my “confession” is bad and “you shouldn’t be speaking those words” and how you spoke the ‘”right” words and God came through for you. Frankly, I’d like to get a t-shirt I heard of once that says: Please spare me the ghastly details of your happiness!


    • Tim says:

      Can I get one of those T-shirts too?

      And for those who claim there is some “right” way to pray, right after I showed them my T-shirt I’d point out that even Paul admitted not knowing how to pray at times and that it was the Holy Spirit who was the one praying effectively on his behalf anyway.

  10. Pingback: Quote Monday: Learn to LISTEN | Enough Light

  11. Lovely, honest. I often find myself saying, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray. So if you have words to give me, please do. If not, I’ll just remain silent.”

    So thankful we have the Holy Spirit to intercede.

    • Tim says:

      Absolutely, Rachel. If left to my own ability, my prayers would be as empty as those white washed tombs Jesus mentioned. The Holy Spirit on the other hand? Now there’s a real praying person!

  12. What an honest, refreshing post. I appreciate your courageous truth-telling. One of the best promises of Scripture (which I try not to throw at hurting people, but simply use to encourage myself) is that Jesus “intercedes on our behalf” with God the Father. So when we can’t pray, we can trust that he will pray for us, and that is more than sufficient.
    As you know, I did a little post on intercession today–how praying for others draws us toward God. Sometimes we intercede with words, and sometimes we just stand in the gap. And that’s also more than sufficient.

  13. michellevl says:

    Thanks for reminding me again of this wonderful post. Silence. Listening. Praying without words.

    Yes, Yes. Yes.


  14. Yes. When I dropped these bombs, it was usually because I was uncomfortable with the suffering in front of me. If Bible verses couldn’t fix them, maybe those verses couldn’t fix me, either. I wasn’t ready to think that way yet.

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