Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.
The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
Many times we overlook the obvious. As in the above situation most of us would have reacted like the mother. We would have felt that we needed to go and say something. The truth of the matter is that most of the time we do not feel that we have the right words to say…so we don’t go to the one who is hurting. We are so tied up in our culture that we feel we must do something. I heard a phrase expressed years ago that sums this idea up: “Don't just sit there, do something even if it is wrong!” We have been trained that if we are busy, we are worth something, but if we are “just sitting around” we are not. Maybe that concept arises out of the old adage “An idol mind is the devil’s workshop.” I don’t know.
We have a hard time just being with people to “lend them our support.” We feel like we must do something. But the best something that we can be doing is just to be there. I know that as a minister, many times I am called upon to be with a family at the hospital while a loved one is undergoing surgery. I pray with the individual before surgery and then generally just sit with the family during the procedure. I learned long ago, just having the minister present means a lot to most families. It’s not so much what I say, as much as it is that I am there with them. Just being there.
That’s what that little four year old did. He just went and sat with the elderly neighbor and experienced with that elderly man his pain and grief. He was just there with him. He “helped him cry.”
Maybe that is our problem. We don’t want to get so close to another person’s sorrow or troubles, that we feel those things as if they were our own. We want to show support for them, but it is a sanitized support relationship. It is one where we can “do something for them,” but not “be someone to empathize with them,” to feel their hurt to feel their pain, to experience their grief or sorrow. We want to remain aloof from that. We shouldn’t.
I know on FaceBook, people are always asking for prayers for some kind of need. Most people will post praying hands under that request or simply state, “Praying”. But how many really do pray? I am sure many post that and go on about their way, never even thinking about that person’s need again. There are those that respond with a few sentences or even a written prayer right then and there, or a private message letting them know they are praying with a follow up. But most don’t.
The phone company tells us to reach out and touch someone, through a phone call. Even that is impersonal, separated by space and distance with an artificially transmitted voice. Reach out and touch someone. Be there for them by being there with them. All of us know someone who is in need. They need a friend, be that friend. We have everything refined down to an art in keeping us from becoming personally involved. We say, “If you need me, call me.” That is a two way street. We mean that to a degree, but we know that chances are good that the person will not ever call on us.
Don’t tell them to call you, you take the initiative and call on them. You’ll never know how much that means to them, until someone does it for you. Take the bull by the horns and just show up. Tell them, I have come to help any way that I can and then offer then and there to do something specific, but if they are really hurting, words won’t be necessary, just hug them, hold them close for a moment and sit with them. Most of all don’t be afraid to cry with them.
Look around, find someone to help. Words cannot describe what the experience will do for you. It will change you. In fact you probably will look for more opportunities to just “be.”
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and then as a missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at email@example.com. He has been in ministry for 50 years and a columnist for 17 years, 12 of which have been for the Times.