Intro to Scripture
As a student minister, the final stage of the Field Education Experience that I’m doing here, is to hold a class or conversation group. So, for the past three weeks, a small group of us have been gathering online to do some reflection around some of our common Christian Cliches. You know, those sayings that we’ve all heard, and probably we’ve all said at one time or another.
Sometimes someone shares something heavy with us, and we don’t know what to say, so we fall back on something like, “oh, everything happens for a reason,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” These phrases sort of float around the Christian and even vaguely spiritual ether. We say them, we hear them, but, if you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve never really dug into what it is we really mean when we say them.
So, that’s what we’ve been doing for the past several Wednesday nights and will continue do after Ash Wednesday if you care to join us.
But the question remains, why is being there for one another so hard for us? Why do we feel like we have to find the right, perfect, thing to say to someone when they open themselves up to us? What is it that makes simply listening so hard?
As I was prepping the class, I read a book called There is No Good Card for This by Emily McDowell and Kelsey Crowe. And in it, I came across this wonderful explanation of what these writers refer to as “The Five Types of Non-Listeners.” It’s kind of an unpacking of the different ways people respond when we have a hard time just listening. The authors define each type of “non-listener,” and give examples of the kinds of things that each one is most likely to say, instead of just listening to the friend in need. I’m not going to lie, it was a little rough to read, and to realize just how many of those “Five Types of Non-Listeners” I have been in the past.
To help us conceptualize these Five types, I’ve asked a few friends here to help me out a bit… so we can see what each of these types look like in action.
First, we have “The Sage,” the one who tackles every trouble they hear as a problem to be solved with advice.
There’s “The Optimist,” the one who’s always looking for that bright side.
And on the flip side of that, there’s “The Doomsayer,” the one whose mind goes immediately to the worst-case scenario.
Then there’s the “Epidemiologist,” this is the one who wants to really dig in and understand every detail of the problem.
And last, there’s the “All-About-Me,” the one who genuinely tries to empathize by turning the conversation to a problem they’ve had, that they feel helps them relate, but it might not feel like empathy to the one who’s trying to open up about their problem.
Let’s see what this looks like in action, when a comfort-seeker comes to his friends after a hard week…
Comfort-Seeker: I’ve had a pretty rough week. I hadn’t seen my sister in two years, so last weekend I finally was going out to visit. But, after driving for TWO DAYS, just as I arrived at her place, I got a call that my pipes burst, and my basement had flooded. So, I had to get back in the car and drive right back home. THEN my car broke down just as I hit New Brunswick. And now I have all this back pain from spending four days straight in the car.
The Sage: always has advice, an answer
Oh, you HAVE to see my chiropractor. He recommended this fantastic book on isometric back work—I’ll loan it to you. Also, you’ll definitely want to lay off the gluten until the inflammation subsides. Oh, and have you tried turmeric tea? No? Whatever you do, make sure you buy organic. Also, isn’t it time for you to get a new car? I’ve got a Consumer Reports membership—I’ll give you my login so you can make a good choice this time.
The Optimist: tries to find a bright side
Aww, at least you got to hug your sister, right? That must’ve been nice! And I’ve heard that’s a beautiful drive! Oh, you know what’s great for back problems? Pilates! I go to a fantastic class on Tuesdays, and there’s an amazing brunch place next door. And really, wasn’t it time to renovate your basement anyway?
The Doomsayer: thinks of all the horrible consequences
Ohhhhh… Yikes, back pain is NO JOKE. You definitely want to get that checked out right away. My cousin had the same issue. It just started out as a stiff back, so she refused to see anyone, but it only got worse and now he needs major surgery! Also, don’t sleep on getting your basement dry. Once that mold sets in there’s nothing you can do, and your home value will plummet. Like, kiss all your equity goodbye!
The Epidemiologist: asks all the fact-based questions before considering the other’s feelings
Oh, wow. So, what’s wrong with your car? What color smoke was coming out of the engine? And where was the pipe that burst? Oh, and who’s your repair guy? Also, what’s wrong with your back? Is it more of a stiffness, or a pain, and is it like, here? Or here? Hmm. Ok. Interesting. Have you called your doctor yet? What did she say?
The All-About-Me: turns the conversation to themselves in an effort to show empathy
Oh, I SO know how you feel. My back has been bothering me for ages. I’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to help, and it’s a nightmare trying to find a good specialist—trust me I know. My bicycle tire blew out last week, too, and it’s been a MASSIVE hassle trying to get it repaired. And basement renovations are nothing but a headache! We did ours last spring and it took months longer than the estimate. I totally get what you’re going through!
All these responses leave our poor, broken-down, chilly, lonely hero a bit bereft. I don’t know if you saw yourself in any of those, but I’ll admit that the first time I read them, I definitely cringed as I realized just how often I’d embodied… more than one… of those responses.
So, I wondered, what does the Bible have to say about offering comfort to someone who is struggling? How does Jesus support friends that are going through hard times?
Today’s story comes from the Gospel of John, and it’s a story about how Jesus was there for his friends when they were in a place of profound anger and grief. Let’s listen.
John 11:1-7; 32-44
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So, the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
When Mary [saw Jesus] she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So, they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
I love this story. Even though Jesus has literally all the answers, he still gives us a beautiful model for how to care for one another in grief.
I don’t know about you, but most of my friends can’t raise people from the dead, but they, and we, can do pretty much every other thing Jesus did in that passage. We can sit with one another. We can visit graves with one another. We can be deeply moved by one another and weep together. We can brave the “stink” of whatever side-effects come with the hard time our loved one is going through, and simply be with them. Ready to listen.
We can’t bring loved ones back to life, but when we welcome our friends’ stories about the loved ones they’ve lost, we can help bring those stories back to life, even if just for a moment. And that is a kind of resurrection.
When we show up with a casserole and a listening ear for our friends who are too overwhelmed or depressed to prepare a nourishing meal, we help revive them. That, too, is a kind of resurrection.
We can let our friends just talk through a problem, holding back from responding for a bit. Sometimes being able to just ramble helps people work their way through the messiness of what’s going on, and all that talking-through helps the ol’ noodle recall resources it have forgotten about, or new ideas to move forward. When that light bulb goes off, illuminating a new path out of the shadows, that, too, is a kind of resurrection.
We might not be able to bring people back to life, but we can follow Jesus’ example of caring for his loved ones, and effect tiny resurrections that invite and foster and nurture new growth in the hearts of our loved ones and the relationships we share with them.
For this, I give thanks to Jesus, for the beautiful ways in which he showed us how to care for one another.
Listener: Hi there, how are you doing?
Comfort-Seeker: Actually, I’ve had a pretty rough week. I hadn’t seen my sister in two years, so last weekend I finally was going out to visit. But, after driving for TWO DAYS, just as I arrived at her place, I got a call that my pipes burst and my had basement flooded. So, I had to get back in the car and drive right back home. THEN my car broke down just as I hit New Brunswick. And now I have all this back pain from spending four days straight in the car.
Listener: Oh, wow. That’s so frustrating. How are you holding up?