Sometime ago a friend called me. She was freaking out because a friend of hers was having a really rough time. He was at church cleaning, and he’d called her needing to talk. Apparently he was in very bad shape emotionally. She called me. “What do I say to him? I’m afraid I’m going to say something wrong. I don’t even want to go.”
It’s the one fear that stops us, all of us, at one time or another—not having the foggiest idea of what to say to someone who is hurting. Generally it’s in the major, life-altering, horrific moments of life that we sense we are truly not up to the challenge. What do you say to your friend who just had a miscarriage, or that kid who just lost his brother? What do you say to the person who just lost their job or their spouse or their child? What do you say? What can we say that will make any difference whatsoever?
We don’t know, and so we say nothing. We don’t want to get too close because it’s overwhelming and impossible to find the right words. Nothing will bring them back, nothing will fix the situation, and cowed by the Goliath of There’s Nothing You Can Do, we do nothing. We slink away, praying for them maybe but saying nothing.
Don’t think you’re alone if you’ve ever experienced this. I’m right there with you. I can’t count the number of times when it was too easy to walk away, too easy to hope somebody else said something, too easy to hide in my fear rather than step out in faith.
So I told my friend the honest truth. “Show up. It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is the one and only thing that the person really needs. Show up. Go. Take Christ with you, let Him lead and talk. But you have to go.”
The other night I got an abject lesson in showing up. It’s one I’ve been learning for awhile although I didn’t really realize it. There was once again in our small town a tragic wreck. Six kids, going too fast on a country road, lost control, slammed into a pole. The driver died. Barely out of high school, this young man is now gone forever.
Although they have lived in our little town for many years, the family is a transplant. They don’t go to our church. They pretty much stick to themselves, not many friends, few really know them all that well at all.
Ironically, the boy played baseball last year, his senior year. He played center field on my dad’s team. Only five months out of our family tragedy in the loss of my older brother to suicide and five years out of the tragedy of losing his second baseman to another wreck, my dad happened to be up town. He drove by the family’s house and noted only their car in the driveway. No one else. No one bringing food. No one to offer a shoulder to cry on.
I don’t know how the next moments went. I don’t know if he drove by, thought about it, rethought about it, argued with himself, and had to turn around and go back. (I surmise that because that’s how it would’ve happened if it had been me.) Or maybe he saw, understood, and stopped immediately.
In any case, the crystallizing of this lesson for me appeared in that moment because my dad made the decision so many of us don’t. He stopped. I can only imagine the thoughts streaming through his head as he went up and knocked. I can only imagine how fear tried to tell him this was out of his league, that he shouldn’t bother them, that they didn’t want to see anyone, that he had no idea what he would say to this couple who was hurting so badly. Yet he stood there and knocked until someone opened the door.
Upon hearing this story, my thoughts immediately traveled back over the last few years, and suddenly I understood what my dad has been teaching me—not through words but through consistent action, even when it’s been hard. You see, this wasn’t the first time he stopped. There was the last wreck when he went to see the parents of the teen who died and the parents of the teen who was driving.
It wasn’t easy, I’m sure. But he showed up.
Then there was the time a young family in our parish was hurt by a priest who was immediately removed. Many in the parish blamed the family member hurt by the priest. Dad, being a good friend of the father, went to their home, and they talked. I still wonder how much that single act had an influence in the entire family still being an active and vital part of our church.
Looking back, there are times he showed up for me too. Times honestly it would’ve been easier to figure it would blow over, and I would get over it. But he wasn’t willing to take the chance. He showed up. We talked. And for me, it made a big difference.
I so remember when my brother died. There were two guys from my hometown who made the hour and a half trip to where my brother’s family lived even though they didn’t have to—they could’ve just come to the funeral a couple days later. So why did they come? Because Dad had been there for them. And then there were the two kids from the family who had been hurt who came to our house over Easter just a week after my brother’s death just to talk with us and see how we were doing. That had to be terribly hard. I’m not sure I could’ve done it at 20 and 17, but they did. Why? Because Dad had been there for them, and they, too, had learned the value of showing up—from him, and now they wanted to be there for him.
I know their stories, and I know why they came. They came because they had learned how important it is to show up—especially when it’s hard.
For me, as I thought about this lesson, I had a moment of true clarity. Someday when I pass from this life, one of the biggest compliments that could ever be said of me and my life is simply this. “She showed up.”
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the more I learn, the more I’m beginning to think it’s everything.
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007