A platitude is said because someone didn’t know what else to say and you do want to comfort your friend. You heard your friend’s vulnerable mess and you felt it. It triggers those doubts you are wrestling with. You wish you could say something wise so you can give this person comfort that everything is going to be okay. Also you need to know that everything is going to be okay. This is an awkward moment. Your friend just vulnerably trusted you with his/her bloody soul and unspoken questions and you don’t have an answer. So you say a platitude that wraps that pain up into a small box. The platitude felt like a good thing to say.
It was not. That platitude removed you from that pain and left your friend even further alone with those unanswered questions. I wrote a book about this.
A drive-by prayer is similar. Again there is that awkward moment of genuinely wanting to help but not knowing what to say. A prayer is a good idea because God will know what to do, especially because you don’t know what to say. A prayer from you is telling your friend that I will trust God with this outcome on your behalf. This prayer has a conclusion.
Except you get to go back to your normal life, even with your questions. Maybe your friend just wanted to be heard. Just wanted to be able to say these doubting questions about God out loud. Your friend needed you to say “me, too” and then sit in the awkward together. Maybe praying together in that awkward about the questions. This is a prayer that doesn’t have a conclusion.
What is the difference between being in a community of “nice” people versus a community of “real” people? At this time in your life, which one do you prefer? Why?
Being nice is a whole lot less vulnerable. Being real is full of awkward and not knowing what to say or do but trying anyway.
Embrace the awkward. Trust the Holy Spirit to use that awkward to reveal truth to you and to your friend. Shut up, listen, and trust the Holy Spirit for the outcome. Even when you say something so simple and truthful such as, “I don’t know.” In that truth the Holy Spirit is already at work.
We have the story of Job and then we get to meet his friends.
Job 2:11-13 – When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
What Job’s friends did turned into a beautiful Jewish tradition called shiva, which literally means “sitting sevens.” Friends just come and sit with one who mourns for seven days. These friends just sit with them. The awkwardness becomes less awkward, the Holy Spirit is set loose to comfort. The friends’ silence was brilliant. Their silence was a gift.
These friends don’t fidget and try to find an explanation about why this horrible thing happened and happened for a reason. Or remind them that everything is going to be okay because Romans 8:28 so they can stop crying now. The awkwardness is allowed, the Holy Spirit is set loose to comfort.
Alas, the seven days of silence together came to an end and then Job’s friends began to speak—a lot. Suddenly they became experts and had answers. Thus we get 33 chapters of theories of where God is in this pain. Job became someone the friends had to fix. Read Job’s responses. Not once did he say, “Oh yeah, now I feel better. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for fixing me.”
When we try to say something because we are overwhelmed in the awkward, we come across as trying to fix the problem. And as for me when I’ve been this broken, I want you to fix the problem! I want this problem over with. I want an answer. I want this pain to end.
Your words of wisdom, coming from the love you have for me, cannot fix the problem. This pain is my beginning.
This pain is my beginning or this pain is a door to distrusting God.
I want to be fixed. I want to find the path through. But maybe this is what I need:
“I remember sitting across from her with a big piece of cake between us, wringing my hands in my lap, as I reasoned out loud, ‘I can fix this. I can definitely fix this. I can make him want me back. Or I can do this thing on my own and make a system of sorts. A system to make me better and stronger and wiser because of this.’ ‘Or you could just be sad and not make a system, she said quietly. ‘You could maybe just eat a little cake and cry, if you need to.'” –Hannah Brencher email, July 18, 2022
Give me a bag of chips please (my much preferred choice) and let me cry. A “me, too” response tells me that pain is my beginning and I am here with you. Maybe because you have learned something about this Larger Story God because you have known pain too. That is enough.
This sort of “me, too” action is enough. A prayer without a conclusion is enough. And it is not awkward at all.