How do you react when you hear bad news? Do you freeze? Dissociate? Cry? Scream? All of these options can be valid reactions for people when they hear something disconcerting. Helping professionals, like clergy, can have a tendency to want to go in and make everything better for the person who is bearing the bad news.
Clergy are seen as people who can bind up the wounds of humans who are hurting. It’s in their DNA, go in and fix what’s ailing someone else.
But the greater challenge is to hear and feel that someone is in distress, and instead of rush in to fix it, rather to take the time and sit with the discomfort.
The writer of John’s Gospel records the following regarding the death of Lazarus:
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept. ( John 11: 32-35 )
Here what is remarkable is that Jesus doesn’t rush in to make everything better. There is no attempt being made here to serve as “the toxic clean -up squad” in dealing with the reality of death.
Rather, Jesus is able to deal with the grief that is a palpable and present.
We read: “Jesus wept. “, perhaps the shortest sentence in all of the New Testament.
Clinicians who provide psychotherapy are also tempted to be seduced and pulled in to provide the quick-fix. Compounding matters are insurance companies that also like to have the briefest treatment possible, as well as those who believe that pharmaceuticals can solve everything.
I’m hear to tell you that neither quick- fix therapy nor a lot of pills will necessarily heal a hole in one’s heart.
Instead, what is a more honest approach is to be able to sit with the other person in their pain and to be able to handle the discomforting feelings that one may experience. Harlene Anderson has eloquently noted:
“We are who we are and that’s all we have when we are in the room. “
I think that this philosophy works well not only with psychotherapy, but also with ministry and with life.
You have to show up and you have to be present with people, in all varied circumstances i.e. good, bad and in-between.
How we convey genuineness has a lot to do with how we experience and deal with our own vulnerability.
May we be able, despite the temptation to make it better, to sit with our discomfort.
May we be able to open our lives to the healing that can occur through presence with others and through God, however known.
May it be so.