No Cause for Celebration: Question Seven of Ten

  
Taking The Dave Test during the Holiday
 

Question Seven: “Can I say something that helps?”

Introduction to the series

Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss.  My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease.  He would have been 58 years old in October.

In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love.  Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.

Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays.  At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.”  But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone.  I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.

 

This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I say something that helps?”

The major holidays are behind us, but we live in their shadow in January and February.  The days are often marked by more funerals than at other times of the year.  The social calendar that kept us busy gives way to long, quiet winter days without distraction or diversion.  And the seemingly fresh promise of change gives way to days that are filled with the same losses and challenges that occupied our attention before the holidays began.

For example, one of our relatives lost her husband in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  She couldn’t bear to face family gatherings over the holidays.  But I am sure that the months to come will be harder.  Somehow the promise of the holidays never seems to endure, does it?

I am convinced that many of us want to be good companions in moments like these, but we worry that we won’t know what to say.   I made a different set of suggestions in The Dave Test.  Here let me make another series of suggestions in the same spirit:

One, don’t labor under the assumption that what you say can wipe away the realities of another person’s life.  You can’t change the way things are with the words you use and you shouldn’t let your inability to change reality keep you from being a good companion.  Even if things will never change for the one you love, he or she still needs your friendship.

Two, put yourself in the other person’s place.  What would comfort or encourage him or her?  Something that takes her reality into account?  Yes.  Something that acknowledges the unwelcome character of his struggle?  Yes.  Something that acknowledges that she has suffered real loss?  Yes.

Far too often the things we say are said to comfort ourselves, rather than comfort those in need or we say something that is generically comforting.  It takes time and empathy to understand what another person has lost and then comfort them in ways that take that loss into account.

Three, don’t say anything that isn’t informed by love — a sense of love for those you seek to comfort, and more importantly, a sense of God’s love for those you seek to comfort.  When those we love have suffered loss, the last thing that they need from us is blame-laying, false hope, or glib suggestions.  What they need from us is durable love.

If we do these three things, rather than try to fix reality, comfort ourselves, or let anything but love govern what we say, we are more likely to say something helpful.  And, remember: More than anything you might say, those who are in life’s hard places need to know that they are loved.

 

For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:

Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/11/no-cause-for-celebration-question-one-of-ten/

 

Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/11/no-cause-for-celebration-question-two-of-ten/

 

Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/11/no-cause-for-celebration-question-three-of-ten/

 

Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/12/no-cause-for-celebration-question-four-of-ten/

 

Question Five: “Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/12/no-cause-for-celebration-question-five-of-ten/

 

Question Six: “Can I stop blowing smoke?”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatgodwantsforyourlife/2013/12/no-cause-for-celebration-question-six-of-ten/

 

To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:

http://frederickwschmidt.com/about-the-book/

(Click on the book to order)

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.


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