from Chapter 1
“I Feel Helpless”
I feel helpless around people in great pain. Helpless, and also guilty. I stand beside them, watching facial features contort and listening to the signs and moans, deeply aware of the huge gulf between us. I cannot penetrate their suffering, I can only watch.Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1990), 17
My daughter felt that way one day, not too long ago. I was driving her to work when all of a sudden a sharp pain gripped me in the lower left extremity of my abdomen. I’ve had pain in this area before, but this time it was nearly as intense as childbirth. I did not cry out in pain, but my breathing became labored, and it was all I could do to keep the truck on the road. It didn’t help that I happened to be going 70 mph on the highway (the speed limit here, by the way). The pain lasted five minutes, but it felt like an eternity to both my daughter and me. She stared out the window, not even daring to continue reading the book she held in her hand.
We stopped at the store before I dropped her off at work, and in a less tense moment, I mentioned the fact that I had been in pain. “I know,” she said.
“Then why didn’t you say something?” I asked.
“What could I say?”
“It would have been nice to hear ‘Are you okay?’ Those three little words would have told me that you felt my pain. You need to learn to empathize, not for my sake, but for the sake of others. The cold silence hurts because it makes me feel alone.”
Silence doesn’t have to hurt. When a person is not afraid to look at you, or give a hug, or reach out and touch your hand, that kind of silence is comforting. But she did none of that. Instead, she pretended not to notice. She left me to bear the pain alone. She’s only seventeen. I didn’t blame her, but I did use it as a teaching moment.
A lot of people feel the same way she does when confronted with those who are in pain. They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing. My advice: Take your cue from the one who is in pain. And when in doubt, err on the side of compassion and empathy. It is not hard to ask, “Are you okay?” or “What can I do to help?”