On Tuesday, I asked my friends over on This, the Book of Faces a question:
What’s the worst piece of advice or cliched-reassurance that you’ve received in your life during a time of need? It has to be something that was meant well but failed horribly in execution.
Forty-nine comments later, many shared some of the most distressing, baffling and meanest “kind” words ever spoken. Here’s just a sampling of them:
After my aunt passed away, I was told by a woman at the funeral, whom I didn’t know, that it would be ok, and eventually I would forget about my aunt.” (KL)
“We tried to have a baby for many, many years. Were on a list to adopt, but lots of things completely beyond our control, also made that an incredibly long process . . . . There were many times during that 12 year time period that I DID NOT want to hear that you will have a baby when God wants you to have a baby.” (MJ)
“I know you’re struggling, but don’t worry, this is just a phase.” (JR)
Countless people: “Yeah, your dad died, but don’t worry, God is your REAL father!”(JH)
“Upon having a break up, “There are other fish in the sea,” “Oh, well, it just wasn’t meant to be,” “Oh, you can find someone so much better than me (from the ex himself),” and once when I said, “I feel like this isn’t a done deal,” someone said, “Yes, I’ve gotten GREAT friendships out of exes!” And that’s totally not what I meant.” (SH)
“There is not nearly enough space here to give the dozens of awful things that were said to me in the days and weeks after my husband’s death. And then there have been the suggestions about how to deal with my loneliness. My personal favorite is the “sincere” inquiry as to whether I could BE (meaning become) a lesbian. As if over a lifetime I had not been able to sort out clearly a few basic truths about my own sexuality. (RMC)
Now, as a Christian, I know I should just smile and let these things go, because well-meaning Christians mean well when they say such awful, stupid things. These types of things are said usually when nothing can be said, like when we stare death, loss or loneliness square in the face. Well-meaning people say nice things to try make it better, but just end up making it worse, nine-times-out-of-ten.
But, even more than this, as a Christian, it just makes me mad that we can say these things to each other without any consequence. Nobody can say those who say such things (or to us, when we say such things), “Hey, knock it off!” As far as I can tell, no one faces any kind of consequence for their careless words spoken to those who suffer. And, if you did confront one of them, one could easily say, “Well, what was I supposed to say?” Indeed, what were you supposed to say?
A few weeks ago, I began writing about what I processed while at St. Gregory’s. The main theme of my contemplation seems to be that all of life revolves around the crucifixion and we’re all barreling towards our own time of suffering. We’re all heading for a crucifixion, each in our own way. The question for those of us who have yet to enter into that time of suffering is to ask, “What role will I play in my neighbor’s Golgotha?” or “What role will I play in my enemy’s time at Calvary?”
There are crucifixions happening all around us, every day. They could be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. There are both public and private crucifixions. Indeed, we pass by Golgatha every time we pass a homeless man and do not give alms; yes, we pass by Calvary every time we ignore the quiet suffering of those around us. And so on.
These stories are all little crucifixions. The grief from death, from a delayed pregnancy and the loss of a relationship are just examples of the myriads of crosses that people bear every day and, if they suffer in love, these things unite them with Christ’s passion. In a real sense, they are being crucified with Christ. They have stepped in a real way in persona Christi, just like how St. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galations 2:20)
So, let’s just imagine what it would be like if well-meaning, modern Christians were inserted into the Passion narratives:
There Christ kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane, doubled-over in pain with blood sweating from his forehead. A well-meaning Christian sees this and walks over to Our Lord. “What’s wrong, Jesus?” Our Lord explains that he’s struggling to accept the cup that’s been given to him, to accept what will happen in the next few hours. “Jesus, you shouldn’t be worried about that! Why don’t you pray for peace in your soul, instead. God will work it all out.” Our Lord wipes the blood off his forehead.
There Christ stands in a scarlet robe, severely beaten, hands bound and head bowed. Our Lord has just been sentenced to death on the cross by Pontius Pilate. The Disciples who followed this far start running from the court. A well-meaning Christian sees them leaving. “Hey, guys, what’s up?” The Disciples explain that there is a good chance that they will be killed, too. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. Besides, there are plenty more messiah’s in first-century Palestine, so you can just find another one. Life goes on, guys!” The Disciples continue running, while Our Lord goes off to death.
There Christ carries his cross up to Golgatha, but he struggles with it. A late night and early morning of beatings, taunts and crowns-of-thorn will do that to you. A man in the crowd is picked at random to help carry the cross. So Our Lord and Simon from Cyrene struggle with it together up the hill. A well-meaning Christian starts walking next to Simon from Cyrene. He doesn’t offer to help. “Hey, dude, what are you doing?” Simon explains that he doesn’t know who this convict is, but he was charged to help. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s just a phase. Think: in three hours it will all be over and you’ll be able to forget it! You’ll be able to go back to your life as normal.” Our Lord falls for the second time.
There Christ hangs on the cross. Most everybody has left, except for Our Lady, St. John and a few women. There they stand, weeping and mostly numb while they watch their son, friend and Messiah die. A well-meaning Christian sees this, and walks over to Our Lady. “Hey, Mary! Why are you so sad today? ‘This is the day the Lord hath made!'” Our Lady says nothing. “Oh, right. Sorry about Jesus.” He glances for a split-second at the cross. “You can’t worry about this, though. Remember, Jesus is going to be with God, now! Praise be to God! If God still wanted him to be alive, he would be!” A soldier takes a spear and stabs Our Lord with it, causing the blood and the water to flow from his side.
Okay, Okay, I hear you. Yes, this is hyperbolic. But, maybe we should strive to not be a well-meaning Christian who speaks stupidity when someone is being crucified before them. Maybe we should strive to not be the crazy and insensitive (but well-meaning!) Christians whose words scar those they are trying to help. Perhaps in our attempts at being well-meaning, we have ended up as a nameless voice in the crowd that taunts, “Crucify! Crucify!”, as those around us go up to death.
What should we say, then?
Perhaps, we should be like Our Lady and St. John. Maybe we should just stand there and not say anything. Maybe we should weep with those who weep. Maybe we should pray together, using the words of the Psalms. Maybe we should take casseroles to those who suffer. Maybe we should not abandon those in the worst hour of their lives.
Let’s save our words until after the resurrection. Until then, maybe you who do these things will have the blessing of hearing, “Mother, behold your son,” and “Son, behold your mother”. Maybe we will be blessed to hear these things, while we watch the salvation of the universe, of our lives and the lives of untold millions in all these little crosses.