No, I’m not referring to the hip hop dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance” from several seasons ago (yeah, I went there). I’m referring to the emotional/relational need of comfort.
I will tell you this, there is no greater misunderstood action/feeling/need than comfort. I have spoken with people who have been in professional ministry for years who think that they are good at comforting others and yet have absolutely no clue. People think it is one thing and yet it is far from what they believe. Others think that they are not good at it and yet they are the ones who “get it” and are great at it. Sadly, it is Christians who by far and wide struggle greatly in meeting this need in others.
Why is it important? I mean, can’t we just suck it up and move on? Well, no, you can’t. Oh, for a little while you may be able to stuff the pain down if you are really good at it and have a strong little black box of emotions in your gut. Yet, even then they are not really contained. Worse yet, one day that lid will fly off and your world will be wrecked in a self destructive mess. It IS important as the God of all creation was also known as the God of…comfort (2Cor 1:3). Further, in Matt 5:4, Jesus tells His disciples, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will comforted.”
So it is important, but what is it…not? It is not, encouragement. Too often, I hear someone who is hurting met with, “that’s’ ok, God will use this and you’ll be better for it.” Sometimes it’s, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Sadly, many people will send a hurting person their ace in the hole scripture verse to help “pull them out of it.” Once the person has healed or at least been comforted this scripture is essential to their growth moving forward. Yet, by itself, it simply tells the hurting that they should not hurt, that they are wrong for hurting, and worst of all, that they are alone in their hurt. Again, scripture and encouraging type statements like that have their place. They are nice. Encouragement is necessary. It is not comfort.
It is not identifying. NEVER, EVER tell someone who is hurting “I know how you feel.” You see, you don’t. You may have gone through the identical situation at exactly the same time in your life but you are not them and you don’t know how they are reacting or feeling at this moment. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be comfort.
It is not education. When someone is hurting and you tell them what they did wrong it does not comfort them. It does the exact opposite. They are now hurting and feel dumb, or irresponsible. Some counseling is now focused on only showing hurting people where they have erred in light of scripture. While this may be helpful in moving forward after the person has received comfort, it is not comfort. By itself it compounds the hurt with feelings of at best conviction and much more likely guilt if not downright condemnation.
So what is it? You’d be amazed at how simple it is. The answer lies in Romans 12:15. If you are not a Christian please continue reading. As with most things in the bible, when broken down simply, it makes great common sense. This verse says “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Notice it did not say “encourage, identify with, or educate those who mourn.” It says, “…mourn with those who mourn.” We are to join them in their sorrow. Cry with them, hold them, give them a heartfelt, “awe honey.” For those less flowery in their speech you can simply look them in the eye, shake your head slowly and say, “man, that really sucks…I am so sorry.” Even a detached, self absorbed tool could pull that off.
In John 11, Jesus models this behavior. His good friend Lazarus is dead. Jesus is about to heal him. Yet, when He sees Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) weeping, Jesus weeps. He did not tell them it would be ok. He did not say, “You know, My good friend and cousin John the Baptist was beheaded.” He did not quote the Psalms or any of the Prophets. He certainly did not say, “You fools! Do you not know who I am? I am about to heal Lazarus! No. He wept. He joined them in THEIR emotion. He entered their world of hurt. He mourned with them. He looked them in the eyes and made a connection, and cried WITH them.
All the words, all the thoughts, all the right and most incredibly wise things you feel like you should have said don’t come close to simply being there in the moment, hurting with the hurting. As Christians, we too often don’t even let on that we’re hurting. That would show a lack of faith in God to other Christians and be a bad testimony to non-Christians. So we pretend. Wouldn’t you know it, we are then labeled as being fake. Non-Christians, on the other hand, are very quick with a “this sucks” and are met with, “yeah man, that totally blows.” See? They are real, they are there for each other. Yes, I’m generalizing and there are many examples of Christians who are great at comfort and non-Christians who aren’t. All that really matters though…is you. How are you at this? Further, how will you BE? Mourn with those who mourn…in your own words, your own heart, in your own way. Those around you will be blessed.