Taking the Dave Test? Learn to Tell the Truth
It is blowing smoke to tell someone dying of cancer that he or she is going to get better simply because God wants the best for him or her.
It is blowing smoke to tell someone who has lost a child in an accident that God is simply testing her and she will emerge a better person for it.
It is blowing smoke to tell someone suffering from chronic serious depression that if he would only pray harder, he would get better. (I should know.)
It is blowing smoke to tell someone suffering from economic hardship that they are in control of their destiny, if they will only pray or think in a certain way.
Living up to the Dave Test demands two things. First, it asks that we be honest to the on-the-ground reality of a person's experience. Suffering does not feel like a blessing, even of wisdom and other goods emerge from it. Second, it asks that we walk alongside that person and offer the comfort of our presence, not of spurious words intended as comfort.
When I began my 400-hour chaplaincy in Austin's trauma care hospital, I was most worried about what I would say. How would I help people make sense of their experience? What words would I find to comfort family members and victims of illness of accident.
And what I learned was what Fred Schmidt tells us in this book. Words were usually unhelpful. But my presence alongside the suffering and the dying was immeasurably important.
By all means, tell the suffering that God loves them. But don't just tell them; model that love. Show that love through your faithful presence. The God who created us, who loves us, will not let us down, but any words we can offer in explanation of that love are ultimately insufficient.
Only the example of a love that accompanies another through the valley of the shadow has ultimate worth.
To read an excerpt from The Dave Test, visit the Patheos Book Club here.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.