language frailty

I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or seem like a curmudgeon, but here are some observations about a few responses I hear all the time lately that don’t really communicate what they are meant to.

1. “I’m really sorry to hear about your mom.”
This one takes the cake. I’ve heard it more times than I can recall. I think what the person is trying to express is “I really feel for you right now. I want to express my condolences.” But that’s not what this sentence indicates. The sentence says “I’m sorry that I heard about it” which is really insensitive. What I always want to say in response is, “Well I’m sorry I told you. I’m sorry that I said anything at all. Obviously you don’t know what to say and we both really feel awkward now. You’re still my friend but lets politely talk about something else.”

2. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Ok, let’s see. How ’bout you cover half of the funeral expenses? You wanna do that? How about you wait on me hand and foot for the next week while I grieve? How ’bout you bring my mother back from the dead? Can you do that?

3. “So how are you doing?”

This is my favorite. I’d love to just once really lay it on just one of the hurried folks who flippantly ask this question expecting to hear “Just fine.” Just once I want to go, “I’m doing really lousy. My mother just died. This is the worst I’ve felt in a long time. Are you going to do anything about it? Tell me you’re sorry to hear about it. . . . go ahead.” In his Christology lectures Dietrich Bonhoeffer compared and contrasted the question “How are you?” with “Who are you?” He notes how much easier and more acceptable it is to ask the first and how much harder and rarer it is to ask the second.

Sometimes I wonder if its just the English language that is full of little meaningless quips that fall flat when pressed for real meaning. There’s another reason for me to continue my German lessons.



Filed under Personal

2 responses to “language frailty

  1. Chris, my words will probably be as empty and as unhelpful as anyone’s. I can’t be there to just sit with you and Martha and listen to you speak about all that you are feeling — but even if I could, I still couldn’t understand the depth of grief that only your hearts can feel. When I read this morning about your mom, I did all that I thought was “right” to do … I prayed for you and your family, I desperately sought the scriptures for something — anything — that could help to comfort you, anything that made some sort of sense. I didn’t find it. I only felt more sorrow for your loss.

    I know my feelings of helplessness in trying to comfort you is nothing compared to the helplessness you are feeling. I can try to understand, I can try to love you guys in the best way I know how. I’ll fail, but I’ll still do it.

    I know you already know the Truth. I know you know the Comforter. But I also know you know sorrow and grief and loneliness … and I am praying for you. I don’t know how to reach into your heart and knit it up. But I am praying for you. I can’t understand this part of your journey, even if I were walking side-by-side with you all of the way, because I would not be walking in your shoes, but only beside them. But I am praying for you.

    It is what I can do. It is all I know how to do. And please know … I’m doing it. With everything in me, I’m doing it.


  2. Joyce,

    thanks so much. Thanks for all your prayers. That’s all I can ask. My comments were certainly not directed at anyone particularly. I suppose I feel spoiled in a way that we’re Christians and surrounded by so much love. Its silly to complain really. Even so, as you know I love ranting on my blog. Its therapeutic.



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