Posted by: New in Every Way | October 10, 2012

Bad Day? Gotta Have These . . .

**   RaNdoM StuFF   **

Are you having a bad day? Is someone you know having a bad life, right now? You might wonder if anything can help you—or them. If so, there are two words that name some powerful help. They are: sympathy and comfort. You may think they are both fairly tame warm-fuzzies. But read on. I think you’ll be surprised—and helped.

Webster’s Dictionary says sympathy comes from the Greek sun- (like) + pathos (emotion, often specifically suffering). So, when we sympathize with someone, we feel an emotion similar to theirs or we share in their suffering.

It is so important to a person who is grieving or distraught to sense that someone understands what they are going through.

Let’s say six-year-old Heather is upset about a picnic being cancelled. We might charge in with statements like “We can have it next weekend” (which doesn’t make today happier) and “It’s not the end of the world” (which implies the child is silly to feel so let down). A little sympathy would go a lot farther: “A picnic was such a great idea. It’s so disappointing to have to wait. I’m so sorry it rained today.” When Heather sees that someone understands and respects her feelings—she might snap right out of her blues. That’s the power of sympathy. And the Bible is right on top of it when it says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15 NKJV).

Now for the word comfort. It contains the Latin com– (together) and fortis (strong). When we receive comfort, it’s because someone is there for us and that makes us feel strong again. In the presence of a strong, caring person, your shattered heart re-collects itself. You are ready to look life in the face again.

Here’s an example of how comfort works: When I was in first grade, my school hosted a fall festival. In one room, I sat on the floor next to my dad to watch a film. It must have been about baby animals. All I remember was the footage of a baby bear. I realized it was a baby, but it looked so big up there on the screen—a lot bigger than me. I moved over until I was right next to my dad. Amazingly, I felt totally brave again. I was under the protection of a big dad.

The King James Version of the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever (John 14:16 KJV).

I don’t know of any recent version of the Bible that uses the English word “comforter” in the above verse—and with reason. Today the word “comfort” is a warm fuzzy. However, back in the day when the King James Version was born (1511), it had its original meaning . . . strong.

Here’s something to keep in mind: sympathy and comfort are both powerful, but neither is as effective by itself.  If you give nothing but sympathy, your suffering friend may stay focused on his problems—and even become filled with self-pity, anger, and helplessness.  If you offer comfort (encouragement) without sympathizing first, your friend may think you’re saying to her, “Come on. Buck up. You’re being a baby.” But sympathizing first, then comforting does more good than you would think.

Now here’s the really good news: Whether or not the people around you offer sympathy and comfort when you need them . . . God will. He cares how we feel, and his embrace puts strength and courage back into our hearts.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion [sympathy] and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV).

Making It Personal

  • Don’t feel bad about feeling bad sometimes—it’s a natural response to tough situations. Let God and others weep with you for a while.
  • Don’t let your emotions keep you on a pointless merry-go-round. Let the comfort of God and others help you move back into living again.
  • Do you know someone who is moping around over something you think is silly? There may be a good reason it bothers them. A little sympathy may be in order (sometimes not! Ask the Lord for wisdom).
  • Don’t underestimate the power of just being there with someone in trauma. Small, practical acts of assistance are monumental, but even if there’s nothing you can do, being there means a lot. 

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