What We Need To Ask Each Other
Disclaimer: no one was harmed in the making of this blog post
There is a question that I believe can transform our relationships, a question we need to all ask each other more:
How can I comfort you?
Above all, remember “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.” (Philippians 2)
It is the comfort God has lavished on us that calls us to comfort others. Because of the pain we’ve felt, we no longer have to be strangers to the pain of another. When we choose to walk through the difficult times with Him by surrendering our ego and emptying ourself, we can receive the tenderness and gentleness of His healing presence. When we experience the power within His humility that invites, the power within His soft touch that had no fear in gently touching the blind or lame, nor writing carefully in the sand to help another; we will know how to comfort others out of our own ache.
Yet how often do I ask my loved ones how they need to be comforted? How often do I wonder how they receive comfort best? How often do I pay attention to learn which actions or words resonate deeply with them and which don’t? How often am I quick to comfort those in my life in the way I like to be comforted, neglecting that they are not me? Comfort has a language of its own and there is something undeniably powerful in a friend who knows how to speak the language of comfort that your soul understands, like feeling that everything you lost in the pain is coming back to you.
“The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are.” Stephen Covey
I still remember the day I found out that I had to withdraw from medical school. I remember wanting nothing more than to run from the torment of failure as I felt the foundation that I had built my dreams, hopes and even identity crumble. That was the same day I tasted comfort, like the Promised Land dripping of milk and honey in the midst of a wilderness, in a way I had never known before.
My friend stayed with me, cried with me, wrapped me in a red blanket and sang Psalm 13 to me.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?…But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
Divine comfort took on flesh in my friend’s faithfulness to stay. This Psalm embodies the true unsurpassed beauty of comfort. Though it may not change our circumstances, though it may not take away the pain, it strengthens our heart to praise in defiance of the moment. True comfort is a fortress against wailing winds and the fearful elements of disaster that threaten to swallow our home. Because my friend stayed, I know that it takes an embrace and a shirt to stain with mascara and tears, to remember to breathe, find a moment to be still – just like that, I settle, soften and make space for the pain. The harsh voice of judgement drops to a whisper and I remember again that as much as I want to stop the madness and control the chaos, I can ask for the grace to let go through the healing found in comfort. Together with those who are long-suffering enough to bear our burdens, who choose to decrease as He increases in them by comforting us, we walk slowly into the mystery. The mystery that more than answers or solutions people desire comfort. More than fleeing from a broken and contrite heart, refusing the suffering, God desires our surrender. Surrender is not defeat, but victory. To learn how to comfort and to be willing to receive comfort from one another is how we win.
“You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.” St Seraphim of Sarov
Sometimes comfort comes to us in unexpected packages; His is the gift of his own life within us, sharing His own joy and love in the midst of the confusion and anxiety that encloses us, in the midst of all the ways we try to escape from the pain outside of His life in us.
With His life in me, I am given a choice, to waste my pain and the pain of others or to give and accept comfort freely. And so as with all of life, it is always choices such as these that determine where we are going and how our own journey moulds us and influences those around us. It is a choice to be a healing presence to others. With this choice, pray to be sensitive to how the person before you longs to be comforted. Be brave enough to give sacrificially to meet each other’s need to be comforted and to ask: how can I comfort you?
“What does it mean to become a healing presence? And probably more important, how do we increase our ability to do that? I think already you can see that this definition is an operational definition for love delivered; love on the street; love in our lives; love with each other.
Let’s look at what a healing presence is. It means that when someone, you or me or some other human, has done something to give me strength or hope. And you might ask in your life recently, who in your life did give you strength or hope when you felt in need a little? And what were the ingredients of that? How was that done? That’s the way we learn how to do that for each other. It means that I do something and give someone else what Christ gives through me. Grace has a life of its own. And in that sense, healing can become contagious. Others feel it, experience, and see it, and then perhaps do it a little more themselves.Christ is our physician; our complete healer. And He wants us to be His humanity on this earth for each other, to the extent that we can. We’re His healing presence for each other or not. We are a healing presence to others when we give them strength; we have an encounter with them. We give them strength when we give them hope. They leave us, whether it’s a very brief or a sustained encounter, with strength and hope.”