I was talking last week to a counselor who decided to “take off that hat” and put on their “theological hat.” When he said that, I had a feeling the conversation would not go well from there. I wanted to stop him and ask if he really believed what he was about to say was something that hadn’t been said, or that I hadn’t thought, or that I hadn’t said to myself.
He was not to be stopped, though, so he delivered himself of what he thought was the wisdom I needed to hear. I didn’t. The truth is he wasn’t saying it to make me feel better; he was saying it to make himself feel less impotent in the presence of loss and grief. There was nothing he would say that would help me or heal me. There is nothing anyone can say or do, but that doesn’t seem to slow people down.
It is impossible for any of us to believe that there is nothing we can do or say that will help. We have this overwhelming compulsion to fix things for others because, if we can’t, it might be impossible to fix when we are in a similar situation. We have been conditioned to believe that in any negative, hurting, difficult, or painful situation there is a pill we can take, or a formula that can be used, or a superhero who will come to our rescue. If we can say just the right thing we might be the superhero, so we try to save people from their pain.
If you have ever suffered a great loss, and been through a season of profound grief, you know, of course, that not only do the attempts to rescue fail, but they can be rather hurtful. I shut down and withdraw because I know I’ve just encountered someone who can’t stand the discomfort that comes from simply being with me in my pain and darkness, my uncertainty and lostness. Like all people in pain, I’d love it if someone could save me, but they can’t. All they really can do is be with me. It is a hard lesson to learn. I know because, by nature, I always want to fix things. I hopefully will remember, at least every now and then, my experience with the counselor and will just shut up and offer my hand or shoulder or ear or heart when I encounter someone in grief. Hopefully I will trust that, although it won’t fix things, it is the best I have to offer, and Life will have to do the rest.
Rev. Michael Piazza