Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.

Like many of us, I’ve been reading on many of the horrible events this week and all the media circus which it entails. In a sea of crowded voices, both reasonable and ugly, that has said nearly all there is to say, I want to risk one more voice to the busy ocean of opinion.

I work as a hospital chaplain and I’ve sat with many, many patients and their families as the patients lay dying. I have watched quite a few slip away. It’s always a terrible situation; death is our common enemy. Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve. My job as a “professional griever” is to approach each person with grace, sensitivity, and comfort, the best of me for the best of them, as much as I know how.

It’s not my place or my role to evaluate this person in their pain. And I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s place or role, ever.

I’m trying to imagine saying some of the comments I’ve read online to these patients and their family. And I can’t. I would not. Even if this patient may have been a criminal or had brought this situation upon themselves (which has been true some of the time), it’s still a terrible tragedy that they’re in this room. My patients and their families have the same hopes, fears, dreams, passions, uncertainties, and regrets as you and I have. They deserve the same dignity as you and I would want. Some of them were never accorded such dignity in their lifetime, and for some, it was this exact reason that they ended up here.

Somehow, we have socially distanced ourselves from loss by multiple levels of removal from the actual horror of loss itself. We undignify the dead by a jester’s court of judgment, by a carnival of commentary, by a platform of preprogrammed snark. We wait to see what our “side” of the discussion wants us to think, so that we neither think nor feel for ourselves.

You only have to read or hear a few callous comments to know what I mean: each proceeding comment moves further and further away from the actual people, until verbal semantics has smothered the very real loss of life into a wordplay competition. You might win: but what do you win? It seems we’d rather deconstruct or reduce these events into “legal” and “moral” terms, or punchlines and memes, or cautionary tales — and the result is abstract heartlessness.  Many of us have forgotten what it means to sit with loss and to feel the depth of its irreversibility. To simply weep.

Continue reading “Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.”

15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Things I’ve learned not to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy:

“Everything will be okay.”

“You’re so strong!”

“Pain is what forces you to grow.”

“God has an amazing plan for your life!”

“God is using this for your good.”

“God just wanted another angel in heaven.”

“It could’ve been worse.”

“At least you’re still alive. At least—”

“Cheer up and stay positive!”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

“Time to pray really hard and read more Bible.”

“God is using this as a wake-up call.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— and other motivational poster clichés.


Things I’ve learned to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy (and even then, not every time):

“I’m sorry.”
“How are you right now?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be mad.” (Or scared, or hurt, or sad, or weeping, or uncertain.)
“How can I pray for you?”
“I’m always here.”
Or the best thing: listen.

J.S.


Photo by N Medd, CC BY 2.0

Where Is Justice?

When horrible things happen, we instantly feel the brokenness of a fallen, hostile, upside-down world.

Something deep inside us cries out for justice, and it points to a deeper human truth about the way we are made.

We see a sad, stark reality in contrast with a perfect ideal.

Justice is all about righting the wrong and making sure everyone pays.  We don’t like to talk about that until we see the worst a human can do.

I don’t mean to use tragedy as a platform or talking point.  We can’t explain away everything as God’s Will or saying “it’s society’s fault.“  No one should offer a theological reason about how this has a “higher purpose,” because even if it did, we’d be pretentious to say so.

Simply: something has been wrong with the human race since the beginning of time, and we all know it.  We are free to say: this sucks, and it’s infuriating.

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If God Is Good, Then Why Did —?

Anonymous asked:

How do you respond when someone says “If God is good then why did my sister die, why does he let people suffer and why does he let all these bad things happen in the world?”

 

You know, I’ve read tons of books on God’s goodness — even one that was over 500 pages long — with tons of great arguments and stories and victories and apologetic defenses, and I always agree with all the points.  I’ve heard great sermons about God being in control and I can “amen” them all day long. 

But when the hard times roll in: all my ideas about the goodness of God fall flat.  When the trials come, my rock-solid theology evaporates.  When life suckerpunches me in the gut, I double over and don’t get up for a long time.

In the face of real pain, life gets too messy for pat answers, cold comfort, and even well-meaning doctrine.  Life in the moment tends to throw the Bible out the window.

If someone were to ask me, “If God is good then why did –?” … I would not even TRY to answer that one, because we’re not looking for some kind of logical rationale. 

Oh, there are good answers for that one, and I believe them all, and we could sit down over coffee in our comfortable sweatpants in an air-conditioned room and discuss those reasons in calm collected voices: but when you experience the cancer, the car accident, and the phone call that changes everything, you’re not hearing me about God’s mysterious ways.

Continue reading “If God Is Good, Then Why Did —?”