Help, Don’t Hurt

therapist comforting patient
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Help, Don’t Hurt

So I’m going through Proverbs and in the Hezekiah section, I encounter a statement I honestly do not remember thinking about before.

Prov. 25:20 – “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”

My first thought, maybe odd. Helping my grandkids with the familiar science experiment, of making a “volcano” with vinegar and baking soda. It’s here in the Bible. I was amused by that.

Of course, that’s not the point. The point in the simile is – two things are like something else. Taking your coat off in cold weather is discomforting. Having vinegar and soda applied to a wound is discomforting.

As I thought about that, I checked some other translations. In the New Living Translation, I found this rendition: “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.”

This is about a mis-guided effort to comfort the grieving.

Singing a merry tune to someone with a heavy heart is like – what? Taking the coat of one who is cold, or applying the vinegar/soda mixture to a wound. It not only doesn’t help. It hurts.

With that thought, my mind starting churning for examples. At a funeral, we generally hear the music of mourning and grief; what is appropriate or fitting. At a military funeral, for example, you will hear TAPS, not Happy Birthday.

Wise people stop and think about what is appropriate in response to grief. We don’t want to irritate, discomfort or sting the heavy heart.

Harold Comer wrote this in Christianity Magazine in 1984.

We (need to) find the right words with empathy. Too often, well-meaning spiritual people bull into another’s life. They tell them exactly what they should do without any awareness of the other’s emotional condition or mood. They not only fail in their effort to help, they come through as insensitive, pushy bores and they close doors for later help. God commanded a spirit of empathy in Romans 12:15 and 1 Corinthians 12:26. Wise men don’t sing songs to the heavy-hearted (Proverbs 25:20). Identify their mood. Be sympathetic. Then speak gentle words to help find receptive ears.[1]

[1] Comer, H. V. (1984). The Right Word. (B. Lewis, Ed.)Christianity Magazine, 1(7), 12.

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