I am so impressed these days when making visitations to funeral homes. A video resume of the deceased’s life is on continuous play. Standing there for 5-10 minutes, the major and salient life events of the one who lies in the casket are summarized.
I have to admit that more often than not, I learned more in those few minutes about the deceased than years of life’s acquaintance. What a clash with traditional funeral parlor ritual – barely audible, long-faced groups in a huddle following their viewing the body and then having a handshake with words of sympathy for the bereaved. Wisdom from my years confirms that being there is what carries the message of sincere sympathy – even being there without a word. As carefully formulated and earnest as our words might be, they rarely are adequate in offering sincere sympathy.
As a young clergyman so many years ago, I always felt an obligation to say something profoundly comforting to those grieving at the death of a loved one. Today, after officiating so many funerals, a firm lengthy handshake-embrace, with a hesitating moment of eye contact along with a barely audible and sincere “I am so sorry” is the best we can do. However, now having been repeatedly the one grieving – parents and two brothers deceased – whatever loving-sympathizers do is comforting. It is their bothering to be there that delivers a clear message of caring and loving.
Our greatest words are our actions. What we do reveals who we are. “You will know them by their works” [Matthew 7:15], is profoundly valid. Words, even though cleverly articulated, rarely say it like actions.
Thinking of spoken words, from my elongated experiences as a psycho-therapist (counselor) and a pastor, I have found that people say one statement more than any other that is a lie – not backed up by action - “I love you”. So often that statement is not the truth since there is little loving action to support it. “It is not he who says Lord, Lord who enters heaven but rather he who does the will of my Father”. [Matthew 7: 21]
By far the most counterfeit users of “I love you” are the young people who are in a young relationship – usually without understanding much about each other, they commit to serve and accept each other as is – oblivious of each other’s abundance of offensive short-comings. Similar is the sinner’s profession of love for God, yet turning a deaf ear to, “If you love me keep my commandments?” [John 14:15]
Love is often blurred or even dismissed by self-love – hoping one’s problems will be taken away by God or hoping to get sexual pleasure and servanthood from one’s marital mate.
There is no short cut to maturity. Properly running our life and running our mouth takes a lot of practice.
The Rev. John Burkhart, Ph.D., is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology; he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at inspirationsandideas.