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How Kind Hearts Change the World
Putting Words Into Action
Think BEFORE You Speak
Yesterday was one of most difficult but enlightening days of my life. I learned lessons that I never imagined could be so deeply ingrained, that I truly believe they will never be forgotten. When I am in a space where others demonstrated dignity and love to everyone around them, I leave a changed person. I feel that I encounter the heart of God in those moments.
I was with a family I have known for years. I learned that you never know what a family is made of until you are with them in the toughest moments. I didn't learn that from being in a family as a child. We shared little, restrained our true feelings out of fear, and certainly didn't discuss anything uncomfortable corporately. How grateful I am to be adopted into many families who are willing to talk about the tough stuff....Hoorah for grace!
As this family was facing the loss of someone who they believed "held them all together for years", there seemed to be an unspoken heaviness which emerged as they choked back tears. We discussed the funeral, the memorial service, the difficult things openly and honestly, as each one talked to her in her last moments. It seemed that it was untimely in some ways, yet real in others.
It seems we are all too often enthralled with our own competency, particularly when it comes to "managing" other people. Hopefully, at some point we will be humbled enough to recognize our inability to escape our own illusion of "having it all together" and choose to make the transition to grace in our dealings with others.
The inspired author of the book of James elaborates on the characteristics of the uncontrolled tongue. It is described as being able to start a blaze that is difficult to put out. I imagine that applies to gossip, criticism, slander and blame, all quite discouraging and unfruitful activity. It is also portrayed as being like the rudder of of a ship. I think that pertains to turning around negative feelings, emotions, actions, opinions and circumstances, and getting them back on course for the completion of a successful journey.
I love how words are used similarly in the above video, which in its completion brought tears to me. Just some valuable "food for thought!" Then again, It's your choice!
As we go through our days, no matter what they bring, I think there is always room for improvement in our hearts, thoughts, and expressions, verbal or non-verbal.
As I paused and thought about it, I processed the truth of those words, as they applied to my interaction with my friends and family. These are my thoughts:
1. Facing trauma is never easy. If you can't empathize, keep your lips sealed. Do them a favor, and don't hurt them further.
2. People want to be held, not fixed when life broadsides them. If you think you need to give advice during these moments, hold your breath. Take a walk if you must and consider what you might say, before you approach others. Better yet, converse with God, who can change your mind, your words and your actions.
3. When people are hurting they sometimes talk about things that won't make any sense to you. It's quite possibly part of their denial, or inability to momentarily be unable to deal with devastating circumstances. It's also part of the grieving process, relinquishing and letting go of that which is treasured, whether it's a relationship, or even a familiar way of life. Don't discount the expression of fears they might be experiencing. Don't judge, move towards compassion. You don't know how you would act, so don't act like you do.
4. Be still, listen and observe long enough to evaluate hidden signals and body language. Much is said event when it may not be articulated. Follow their lead, and don't offer advice that doesn't soothe, just to make yourself feel better or less awkward.
5. Sometimes food is an appropriate comfort. It sustains weary people and gives them something to do. Don't say anything, eat something with them so they don't feel awkward. It won't kill you even if you are a health constituent.
6. Silence is appropriate, so leave it that way. Don't fill the airspace with meaningless drivel. It won't have any effect except irritation, and it might even make them more exhausted than they already are. Period.
7. Consider just sitting and letting people cry. In certain situations, it is needed. Let the tears flow, and avoid passing the tissue prematurely. Let the floodgates open for release, and then offer, but don't force them to stop expressing their pain appropriately. Deal with your own awkwardness or lack of compassion in these moments. Walk a mile in their shoes.
These seven tips are what I am now adopting as my checklist for myself in chaplaincy situations. I think they just might work everywhere else besides. How about you?