Words of Comfort

There is a reason why ministers take courses on death & dying. Comforting someone who has experienced a loss or who is experiencing a personal tribulation is so difficult it often leaves us speechless.

A comfort that I understand is “s/he is in a better place.” I understand you’re not supposed to say that, but I get it. If after death we go to a happy place to live for all eternity, that is comforting. Also, the promise of joining them is surely a comforting thought.

Another forbidden comfort, but one that I do not understand is, “everything happens for a reason.” [FYI, when I hear this I take it as, “I’m sorry you’re suffering, and while all I have is this platitude, I do in fact grieve with you.”] How is that comforting? I feel like I’ve probably posted about this before, but it really boggles my mind. Let’s say you believe God passes out cancer to certain people, why would you think those struck by it would enjoying hearing that?

I find the idea that when we suffer, God suffers with us comforting in the same way it is comforting to know that my friends and family are with me. It is comforting to not be alone. I also find comfort from my faith to the extent it allows me to appreciate the deeper, cosmic beauty of life, including the life of another.

I wonder how others find their faith or the faiths of others comforting. Suffering is often cited as a reason for inventing religion. What does our modern religion have to offer those who suffer?

Note: This post was motivated by some difficult medical news about my dad. I have really appreciated comments of support from people, many of whom read this blog, but today, I’m not trying to solicit more. I’m really interested in exploring (1) what Christianity has to offer in the way of comfort and (2) why we find things comforting. So, I suppose for me, retreat to intellectual inquiry is another source of comfort.

5 thoughts on “Words of Comfort”

  1. This will be frustrating because I am not good at putting my thoughts into words but here goes…

    I recently took offense to an acquaintance who was posting about a 9 year old girl who suddenly died. She said something like “…such a waste – but at least she is at peace with God now”.

    I was especially cranky that day and took offense to that. This little girl was seemingly healthy one day and the next day was dead from an previously undiagnosed heart condition. I am sure it is comforting to her parents (who I understand are Catholic) that she is in Heaven.

    My problem with it is the general human need to reconcile or otherwise find good in such an awful thing.

    Why can’t it just be a tragedy?

    Also, I find personal comfort in knowing Nathan (my son for anyone who doesn’t know me) is in Heaven. However, I would rather he be here with me. It is a horrible thing that he suffered and died and is no longer here with us. It does not give me comfort for OTHER people to tell me he with God now. It only gives me comfort to know that myself. I don’t know if that makes sense.

    The “better place” thing gets me all riled up! Especially when it is a person who had much in life yet to give and receive. I don’t believe it is better for that person to be in Heaven – yet. Is it better for that person? Well – not necessarily. If we are to live in Heaven for all eternity, isn’t the best scenario a fully-lived life on earth followed by eternity in Heaven?

    I keep trying to convince myself that life on earth is like a blink of the eye when you are talking about eternity, but each 24 hour day lived without your loved one can seem very long.

    It is comforting to believe in life after death, but it does not make the hours go by any faster.

  2. Why can’t it just be a tragedy?

    Right. “Man, this sucks” seems to be as good as anything.

    I wonder if in our own heads we are more capable of accepting the fact of tragedy as a reality we just can’t do anything about, but when we interact we have the need to try to fix things or find the meaning.

  3. This might be completely off topic, but what you said about God hurting along with us triggered me thinking about this, which is from a not very comforting Sylvia Plath poem:

    “I am too pure for you or anyone.
    Your body
    Hurts me as the world hurts God.”

    “Fever”, Sylvia Plath

  4. I think this is not very comforting because Plath is “hurt” by anyone and everyone. She attributes it to her purity, but that is not how I would see it. I would say that Plath has a problem. (Not a bold statement, I know.)

    Likewise, it would be sad if our impure existence hurt God.

    God suffering with us is comforting just as if Plath’s character in the poem were capable of human interaction, she would be comforted by others suffering with her.

    Another topic the poem touches on is the way obsession with superlatives like: pure, omniscient, omnipotent, etc., can interfer with our relationship with God who is Creator and Creation.

  5. I would say that Plath has a problem. (Not a bold statement, I know.)

    True, though this poem is titled, “Fever 103.”

    You can hear the poet herself read it, and watch a weird montage along with, on YouTube.

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