“Why do we offer whitewashed comfort anyway? I have done it, so I’m indicting myself as much as anyone. I wonder why it’s our go-to script when sorrow is at the door. Perhaps we want our friends to feel better immediately. Even if the comfort is temporary, we want them to move on and not dwell on the negative.”
I called her when I heard the news. Her husband has cancer.
When the doctors first detected an irregularity, they were unconcerned. It was probably nothing. But they decided to run tests just in case. Despite what they had predicted, the tests came back positive. Malignant.
She ran into a neighbor soon after they received the diagnosis. Her neighbor sympathized, but then immediately dismissed her fears. Countless people get cancer and ultimately live, long healthy lives. She needn’t worry. Everything was going to be fine.
How could her neighbor know that? What if her husband wasn’t fine?
My friend left that encounter feeling misunderstood and minimized. Her neighbor doesn’t know how this will turn out. No one does. To my friend, easy comfort and quick reassurance feel hollow. She doesn’t need “Don’t worry; it’ll all be fine” comfort. That comfort isn’t based on truth. It simply looks away from hard things.
Why do we offer whitewashed comfort anyway? I have done it, so I’m indicting myself as much as anyone. I wonder why it’s our go-to script when sorrow is at the door. Perhaps we want our friends to feel better immediately. Even if the comfort is temporary, we want them to move on and not dwell on the negative. We also subtly believe that God will be more glorified in healing and wholeness than in sickness and brokenness.
Is the comfort we’re offering in those moments true? Is it helpful to hear anecdotes of people who had a good outcome? Or being quoted encouraging survival statistics? Is it really that reassuring knowing 70% of people recover or survive — when 30% don’t? Is our comfort based on assuming we’ll be in the majority?
This is the only kind of comfort the world can give. Sadly, it’s how many believers try to comfort the hurting. People assured me that God would be most glorified in my infant son’s healing. Besides, his heart surgeon had an 80% success rate. Don’t worry; it’ll all be fine.
When my son died at two months old, God was glorified in a different way.
What If I Never Heal?
When I was first diagnosed with post-polio, friends felt sure that I wouldn’t deteriorate physically. I would beat the odds, and that would glorify God. But years later, as post-polio sets in, I realize I can glorify God even if my body isn’t healed.
When my ex-husband left, everyone had God-glorifying stories of broken marriages being restored. They were sure that would be our story too. But I have learned that God can still be glorified after a heartbreaking and unwanted divorce.
When people keep assuring me that I’ll have a positive outcome, it feels like my pain is being dismissed. My friend felt the same way as she was constantly being “cheered up.” She wanted true comfort. Comfort that would hold her up regardless of the outcome. Comfort that would not shift or fade as the news unfolded. Comfort that was not based on wishful thinking.
My friend then told me where she had found true comfort. She had committed the Heidelberg Catechism to memory, and as she was processing her husband’s diagnosis, the words came back to her. These words brought a waterfall of comfort, especially because her husband was also a believer. They had found true comfort.