The Fine Art of Consolation
Psalm 94. 19
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.’
We all have times in our lives when we are sad… and sometimes what we need most of all at times like this is to feel secure. Its hard to cope with sadness if the ground beneath our feet is rocky. Perhaps a better way of looking at it is to think of our life as a chain, or a web of connections: when a link is broken, we risk losing it and all the connections beyond it. The saddest times are those in which we have broken or lost links…and not all of of them can’t be mended or replaced.
At times like this we really need consolation. Consolation won’t put things back to what they were, but it can make things easier to deal with, and give us hope that there is a future.
So what can we do? for ourselves? for others?
Its no surprise that ritual can be especially important at times like this, which is why we pay such a lot of attention to designing our funerals, and memorial services… they give a framework for helping us grieve and keep moving forwards in our life. I sometimes think that as well as rituals for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, we should have rituals for those other times in our lives when we need to let go of the past and look to the future. We can also devise our own rituals – we have a tradition in our family of lighting a candle to remember loved ones, especially at family occasions and celebrations. Or lighting candles when we pray for those who are ill, worried, or struggling.
The greatest consolation however can come through our actions towards one another.
Simply being there can be the greatest consolation, especially at those times when there is nothing else that anyone can do. Being there is about creating space for someone, by listening, by being present for them. It might not be about being in their company. we can let someone know that we are willing to listen, to be there…and give them space to choose.
However we do this it’s important not to change the focus to ourselves. its not about us…what works for us might not work for someone else. Its not about advice, especially unsolicited advice… and its important to remember that even well intentioned words can sometimes hurt. Things like ‘it could be worse’ and ‘God never sends more than we can cope with’ can leave people feeling that more wretched because they are’t coping, or that you don’t appreciate their situation.
It’s important to remember that grief for a primary loss, of a parent, partner or close friend, lasts for life but that doesn’t mean that we will always stay sad. Sadness is part of the healing process, and its healthier to work through it.
TIPS for consoling someone:
Be there for them
Be genuinely interested without being intrusive
Be careful what you say and how you say things
Keep the focus on them
Remember – it’s not your job to fix things; however, walking alongside someone on their journey, might give them courage, space and hope to find their new way of being.