Some types of pain and suffering are hard to talk about and simply awkward to know how to respond too. They are not the tragedies that come with clean, clear specific lines for us to follow or the socially acceptable ones we know how to talk about. Cancer, car accidents, SIDS, tornadoes, house fires - those we do. But how the suffering that falls into the grey areas between?
How do we respond when a friend confesses to us that they are having an extra marital affair or are consumed by anxiety? What should we say and how do we love the neighbor who is being evicted, the woman whos husband has moved out or the relative who is considering an abortion? Simply coping with our opinions created by the fact that a friend may be disrupting an adoption, placing a child in residential care or on the verge of leaving a marriage can put us into our own personal emotional crisis that leaves us speechless. And there are no Hallmark cards to ease the way when you have unwittingly asked -if someone is doing better- unaware that they committed suicide a week earlier.
These are the grey areas of life that we wander into -where things are sore and tender and very much like stumbling onto an accident scene wrapped up in a Northwest marsh fog. It's the real parts of life where we can reach in and speak love to those around us or do immeasurable harm by simply invalidating or ignoring their suffering.
These grey zones - where our own opinions and judgement can easily add layers of weight to already overburdened and weary people are the places where we have to choose - do I step in and help or am I going to move away and add to the fog that already surrounds and isolates them.
Not that we mean to make things harder for people who are suffering.
But it somehow becomes personal.
Not in the good - 'I love you and I want to walk through this pain with you' way.
But in the scared - 'I don't know what to say - maybe you deserve this bad thing - I want to tell you your reaping what you sow' version.
Which doesn't help.
If we strive to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly we will not leave people alone to grieve in the grey areas. We will bring the hot dish, send a card and weep with hurting people over the painful things. We can sit together in church and around the kitchen table, passing the box of tissues because they will need them - and hopefully you will too. Moving toward people who are experiencing grey suffering not away from them allows us to fully engage and not take the seat of judgement over them. Moving toward the fog allows us to lean in - not away and hold the ropes for them until they can stand on their own again.