where a man can build his strength and freedom

Are we gentle enough to hold someone who is in pain?

Photo shows a pale blue gentle butterfly hovering near a flower that is bent over.

We often ask ourselves if we are strong enough to do tough things.
But do we ask if we are gentle enough to do other things?
Things that may be equally hard or harder–like comfort someone who is in pain?

Some people are able to gently hold us when we are suffering.
Not necessarily physically,
but emotionally and spiritually.
They hold us close to their heart and give us the comfort we need to come through.

If we have had this experience we know how wonderful it feels!
Such a person touches our life and is a real blessing.
This is a very special gift to receive.

But we, too, can do this.
Maybe we don’t know how.
That’s OK. We can learn.

Are you with me?
Let’s DO this!

A gentle touch

I was in a Clinic last year for eye surgery.
Next morning was my first follow up appointment.
A nurse came in to take all the bandaging off my face.
She did it gently but firmly, talking softly to me the whole time.
It hurt a little but it didn’t bother me because she was so kind.

Then she took a cloth and ever so gently washed around my eye.
I thought: “Wow. She is as gentle as a butterfly’s wings.”
I totally relaxed. All was well.

Later I thought:
“Ah, yes. That is what it takes to comfort someone. Gentleness.
That is what I will write about this week.”

A song

One of the most beautiful songs ever written about giving gentle comfort to
another person is Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Paul Simon wrote the lyrics.

Here, Art Garfunkel sings it during their 1981 concert in Central Park.
Have a listen, and look at his gentle face:

Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge over Troubled Waters

How we begin

The first thing is to recognize that this person we are comforting is NOT US.
Therefore, we do not already know what they need.
We must DISCOVER what they need!

They are not us.
They respond to suffering very differently than we do.
That is why their needs are different.
Our goal is to discover THEIR needs
so we can gently begin to meet them.

Two rules

There are two rules that follow
from recognizing that this person is NOT US:

  • 1. We do not talk about ourselves and our own painful experiences.

    We focus entirely on them.
  • 2. We do not try to fix THEIR pain with OUR OWN solutions.

Alas, most of us make both of these mistakes
when we try to comfort someone in pain.

“I know how you feel,” we say earnestly.
My dog got hit by a car last year!!!
It’s so awful when they call and tell you.
I’ll never forget the night they called and told me!
I never got over it till I got another dog.
That’s the only thing that ever helped me.”

When we say things like this we think we are expressing empathy
and compassion.
We are sincere and we mean well.
But words like these don’t actually comfort the person.
They may even cause them more pain.

Inside they may be screaming: “NO!!! You DON’T know how I feel!!!”
“NO!!! I DON’T want to get another dog!!!”

Note that what we said was all “I, I, I, me, me, me.”
We forgot that it’s not about us.

And we tend to think we already understand.
Yet the truth is we are totally unaware of the actual needs of this individual.
We are totally unaware until we take the time to find out.

So how do we become aware?
We listen. We gently ask. We discover.

The gentle way of being with someone who is suffering,
is to hear them.
We are there to receive and accept their deepest feelings of grief, pain, anger.
We listen for the leads they give us.
We follow those leads with gentle questions.

We patiently find our way to what hurts the most.
We make them feel welcome to spill this deep pain out to us.
We assure them we are right here WITH them in their pain.

We are not judging them.
We are not trying to fix them.
They are entirely and completely safe.
We are here only to comfort them.
We are here to be the gentle person who hears them
and who holds them close in our heart.


Has it been hard for you to comfort someone who is in pain?

I hope you will write and tell me about it.

Dr. Hall