When a first-grader fell on the ice coming into church, the pastor tried to comfort him. “Remember, big boys don’t cry.” “Cry?” he replied, “I’m going to sue.”
Do we live in a world where people would rather have money than comfort? Maybe, but we also know that at times we prefer comfort. Are we too selfish to give comfort?
When bus station employees were having a hard time keeping their door closed, they placed a sign on the door: “Please close the door for the comfort of others.” However, the door still stayed open most of the day. The next day they put up another sign that read, “Please close the door for your own personal comfort.” That day the door stayed closed.
Most of us would like to comfort others, but we just don’t know how. Let’s say you have a friend with a terrible toothache. He calls and says, “My tooth really hurts. Will you come over and just be with me and give me some comfort?” During your visit, you want to help him, but without thinking you blurt out, “I know you’re in a lot of pain, but there’s a reason why you’re in this mess. I have just one question. Are you brushing after every meal?” Your friend replies, “I’m hurting so badly, I don’t even want to think about it right now.” But you press on, “Are you flossing? I just happened to be in your bathroom, and I didn’t see any dental floss. I can tell you’re not flossing. No wonder you’re in pain. You ought to be in pain. Someone like you who never flosses …” Your friend responds, “I did floss. I used a shoestring. Go away, I’m hurting.” You continue to try to “comfort” him. “How about regular checkups? Have you had your teeth cleaned? When was the last time you went to the dentist?” Soon, your presence is more of a nuisance than a blessing.
It may sound absurd, but that’s what we do when people suffer from spiritual pain. “When was the last time you were in church? I haven’t seen you there; no wonder you’re hurting. God’s going to get you.” They want to reply, “Oh, shut up. Why did I share my pain with you? I knew you were a self-righteous guy. You come over here and tell me what’s wrong with me, but all I needed was comfort.” Yet we continue with our barrage.
So how do you help someone who is in physical pain? You might offer some practical help. “Can I go to the drugstore and get you anything? Do you need some Tylenol? Maybe you’d like to see a movie to help take your mind off the toothache. Maybe I can rub your feet. Maybe that will help you forget about your toothache. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.” Your goal is to help your friend deal with the pain and then, ultimately, to get him to a dentist. The dentist can do what you cannot, which is curing the problem rather than the symptoms.
We are not God, no matter what Shirley MacLaine says. Theologically speaking, we’re not the dentists. We cannot solve the real problem, but we are friends of God, who can. When we show genuine care for our hurting friends, they begin to trust us, and then they’ll be more open to a visit to the dentist. After the pain subsides, they may listen to our lecture on tooth care, but not before. They need comfort before they need counsel.
In the sheep country of New Mexico, shepherds were losing lots of lambs in wintertime. The problem was, the ewes would take their lambs out to graze late in the day, and when it started to snow, the temperature would drop below freezing. But the ewes were unaware of the danger to the lambs and would continue to graze, and soon the lambs would freeze to death. The shepherds realized that the reason the ewes were unaware of the danger was that they were covered with so much thick wool they didn’t feel the drop in temperature. The shepherds had a unique solution. They sheared the top of the ewes’ heads so, when the weather changed, they felt it and headed back to the barn, and the lambs followed them to safety.
The first step in helping others is to feel what they are feeling. That’s the essence of comfort. That’s what gets the sheep to the barn and people to the Shepherd.