In those days right after it happened, most people didn’t say anything.
It’s understandable. People don’t know what to say and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. So they just don’t say anything. I’m guilty, too. Too often I assume it’s better to remain silent than to say the wrong thing.
But plenty of people spoke. Many of them probably shouldn’t have.
- There was the one who yelled, pointed her finger, and verbally assaulted me with a laundry list of things I “should have” done.
- There was the one who told me to “get over it” because “everyone has special needs.”
- There was the person who insisted she understood because even though her son didn’t have special needs, he got teased in school for being short.
- There was the person who told me that I just needed to communicate better and it would work itself out.
- There was the person who told me I needed to step back and let my husband handle everything.
- There was the person who told me that it was necessary to sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs of the many.
- There was the person who said, “We prayed about this. This is what God told us to do.”
- There were the people who said, “I see both sides.”
- There was even the friend who promised to stick by my side and help. . . and who then disappeared.
All of these were church people, several of them on staff. All of them were responding to a situation in which my then 6-year-old son was excluded for the first time. All of them seemed shocked that I would be upset about his exclusion.
What to say to someone who is hurting
But in the midst of the emotional upheaval, there was one person who somehow knew just what to say.
Thing is, she and I had started out friends but had a falling out. We hadn’t spoken in a couple of years. With our friendship severed, I didn’t think I could trust her.
She was the last person on earth I would have expected God to use that day. But God’s funny that way. And years later, I’m still thanking Him for giving her the boldness to approach me that day.
“I heard what happened,” she said.
“Yeah,” I fumbled, not knowing how to respond.
“It must be really hard,” she said. And I hugged her like she was the last person on earth. Because that’s what she felt like to me in that moment.
Here I was with all these people talking to me and at me. So many were offering their two cents. But I still felt like I wasn’t being heard.
Apparently all I needed was for someone to say, “it must be really hard.”
- She didn’t minimize the pain, even though special needs is not a personal struggle in her life.
- She didn’t sugarcoat the situation, implying that it wasn’t really as bad as it seemed.
- She didn’t blame or give me a list of “shoulds.”
- She didn’t pry for more information so she could go and gossip about it.
All she did was express a little empathy. And I will never forget it.
Want to change someone’s life?
Maybe you know someone who’s going through a hard time. Perhaps you have special needs families at your church who are struggling. . . and maybe you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing so you don’t say anything.
May I offer some advice?
A little empathy goes a long way.
I know you may not understand what they’re going through. It might seem illogical to you why a parent would get upset over what seems to be a small thing from your perspective.
But would you be willing to give the benefit of the doubt and just come alongside that person? All you really have to do is acknowledge the pain.
My friend was one of very few during the entire traumatic event who simply acknowledged the pain I was feeling. She didn’t run from my pain. She wasn’t scared of it.
All she did was express how hard it must be. She empathized. And that empathy was a much needed balm to my soul.
You could be that person for someone.
I urge you to do what my friend did for me that day. Come alongside the hurting. Recognize the pain for what it is and don’t be afraid to name it. You don’t have to solve everything. Simply be the voice of compassion, the voice who says, “Ouch. That must really hurt.”
You could change someone’s life with one simple phrase.