I know a lot of people who seem to be going through crises right now. I mean real, life or death (or sometimes even just death) crises. And because so much of how people share information is visual (Facebook and blogs), I’m seeing a very wide range of reactions. Some of them are very lovely and make people’s love and care palpable even through the internet. Some of them make me actually swipe my finger across my phone repeatedly as if I could erase the awful thing they said myself.
I see a lot of my fellow Christians focusing a great deal of energy on the ‘go and tell’ verses in the Bible. And don’t get me wrong. We should definitely do that. But that doesn’t mean it always has to look precisely the way it has looked in the American church for the last few decades. In my own family we tend to also pay attention to the part that says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (I Peter 3:15). Note: Someone expressing honest doubts and frustrations is not necessarily asking you to to give an answer. Asking usually involves people saying something like, “What do YOU think about that?”
Going through a crisis is confusing. Processing your pain with words is like showing your work on a very complicated equation. So people coming along and scribbling the answers to the equation they are working on all over your paper is, well, unhelpful at best. If I don’t have the relational equity to have discussed God with someone before they are in a crisis, I certainly don’t have the right to bring God up as the Wizard of Oz who will fix all their problems if they just go see him.
Living as a Christian, to me, means living the life of Jesus in the world, all the time. As much as possible. There are a lot of times when this looks quite different from talking about living the life of Jesus in the world. Because telling someone that they need food is not the same as bringing them dinner. If someone has no relationship with God, that means interacting with me can potentially be one way they experience who God is, even if that isn’t how it’s received or understood in the moment. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:17) If I can only communicate one thing to someone in a crisis, it’s definitely not going to be “God’s in charge of what is happening to you.” It’s going to be, “God cares what is happening to you.” If someone doesn’t believe in God, the closest I can get is, “I care what is happening.” And that is not nothing.
Here are some practical ways I try to communicate that idea:
I don’t elevate my need to say something wise or prescriptive above their need to feel their feelings.
I don’t say something, anything to end their grief-filled words just because I (like many Americans) am completely uncomfortable with grief and other negative and/or vulnerable expressions of emotion.
I give them the space to want to punch God in the throat. Because God can take it.
I try to be careful not to say things that make God sound like someone who should be punched in the throat.
I offer them bacon. Unless they are a vegan. Because bacon is not comforting to vegans.
If peaches are in season, apparently I can several dozen quarts of peaches and pray for them the whole time. Well, at least when this is all over I can bring these over and say, “I spent hours praying for you and keeping my hands busy with these. But that’s probably not what you’re tasting…I added a little extra cinnamon, too…”
I find ways to feel solidarity with them. Sometimes this means preparing their favorite meal and eating it to remind myself of them. Sometimes this means wearing matching socks (I have worn mismatched socks since high school. It’s kind of a thing. Wearing matching socks makes me feel uncomfortable, and is a form of fasting. That may sound weird, but it’s very effective for me).
If I am honored enough to get to share time with them, and I am feeling eloquent, I pray, God, please help me to listen well and to hear what you are saying to them, so I can say it too. Help me not to get in the way of what you are doing with my own limited ideas of what you might be speaking into their life at this moment.
If I am honored enough to get to share time with them, and I am not feeling eloquent, I pray, Dear Jesus. Please help me not to say anything stupid. Amen.