Awkward moments and how to say the right thing

Life is full of awkward moments.  Sometimes we say and do the right thing.  More often than not we walk away slightly embarrassed or highly mortified by what just occurred.  Take last night for example when I was reintroduced to my pastor’s wife.  We’ve seen each other around and have been introduced a time or two, but in a church of 1,200 people I am just a face in the crowd.  We don’t have much opportunity to engage.  Well, after “You remember my wife, Leslie, don’t you?” and an instantaneous “Of course I do!’, which was kind, but likely insincere, I stuck out my hand while she leaned in for a hug.  I quickly pulled my hand away and leaned in for the hug while she stepped back and stuck out her hand.  We both laughed that nervous laugh that people do and ended up hugging for a nanosecond.

Or, there was the time that a friend stopped by our house.  He is a guy that always gives the ladies a little peck on the cheek.  I, for some completely unknown reason, decided to give him a simultaneous European-style air kiss to signify that I too know how very cool people greet one another.  Except I turned my face too much and we ended up kissing.  On the lips.  We both pulled away with horrified wide eyes.  I think I made a stupid joke.  He turned beet red.  Yep.  Awkward stuff.

In life and in ministry there are lots of awkward moments.  Moments when we wish to give comfort and encouragement but we end up sticking our foot in our mouth, or in my case the entire shoe store.  Unfortunately they don’t teach social skills in seminary or Bible College.  We often learn the hard way when it comes to how to act and what to say or more aptly what NOT to say.

You can imagine my delight when my pastor shared an article from the LA Times on How not to say the wrong thing at the meeting last night.  You know, the one with the oh-so-awkward hand shake-hug thingy with his wife.  I think it should be a must read for everyone due to its very practical and easy to remember advice.  It is definitely a must read for mentors.  When we want to say something, but don’t know exactly what to say or how to say it, this article will be very helpful.

Here is my paraphrased version of the article (See below for the article link):  Draw a circle (figuratively, of course) and place the person experiencing the current trauma or drama in the center.  Draw a ring outside of that circle that includes those who are intimately involved with the person or event, such as a husband or wife.  The next ring will include family and close friends.  Each progressive ring moves further away from the person or event.  The rule is simple.  Figure out where you fit in the expanding rings.  You are there to give comfort and support to anyone in a smaller ring than  yours.  Not advice.  Unless asked specifically, and then only in such a way that brings health or comfort to the situation.  No one-upmanship.  No, “Well let me tell you what happened to me!”  No sharing your fears and anxieties over the current situation.

Comfort IN.  Dump OUT.  Bring comfort in anyway you can to those who are in rings smaller than yours.  “I am so sorry” goes a long way.  “How can I pray for you?” goes even further.  “What can I do that would help you the most?” is a great question to ask.  Putting your arm around the shoulder of a young father looking through the glass at his struggling preemie in NICU speaks volumes.  You don’t have to speak volumes.  If you must talk to someone about the situation (in a therapeutic or seeking counsel kind of way – NOT gossipy way!!!) then go to someone in the same ring or a larger ring than yours.

When someone comes to you, their friend or mentor, the first order of business is to listen.  Simply listen.  Resist the urge to advise.  Definitely resist the urge to counsel unless you are, in fact, their counselor.  And whatever you do resist the urge to turn the conversation to your similar experiences or problems.  They have come to you after all.  It’s about THEM, NOT YOU.  You can find your own mentor!  And please, oh please, resist the urge to share your lack of struggles and problems in that area.  No one going through a difficult time needs to hear how rosy your life is or how great or healthy your kids are.

Simple stuff, I know.  But during a time when you want to say the right thing but don’t know what to say or when you think you NEED to say something  (which is usually where I get into trouble), before blurting out something, anything, in order to fill any awkward pause in the conversation remember the sage advice – comfort IN, dump OUT.  Sometimes Most times the best thing you can say is nothing at all.  A hug, a gentle smile, a touch, a shoulder to cry on, or a listening ear is all that is immediately needed.  Then, when you’ve had time to think through the situation and perhaps pray and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, you can share your words of comfort and support.

{Sigh} If only someone had shared this with me when I was just starting out as a young pastor’s wife!


LA Times article link:

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