We know it all: G‑d has a plan. It’s all for the good. Think positively. There’s nothing to worry about. “Gam zu l’tovah”—it may look bad, but it’s actually good. G‑d runs the world.

And we so badly want to say all these things to our loved ones when they are having a hard time. We want to remind them that they are in good hands. We want to cheer them up and cheer them on. There’s just one problem: sharing these pearls of spiritual wisdom at the wrong time can have very bad results.

There's nothing to worry about

“Mommy! My best friend in the world is moving away! What am I going to do? This can’t be happening! I can’t live without her!”

“Sweetheart, you can still talk to her on the phone and visit each other. And don’t worry. G‑d will send you another best friend very soon.”

“You don’t understand! There will never be a friend like her! You make it sound like I can just replace her! What’s the point in telling you anything? You just make it worse!”


Words of the Wise

It’s true that Torah has the answers we need. However, we must be in the right frame of mind to hear the wisdom that is available to guide us. While we are in the throes of anguish, the chemistry of intense emotion shuts down the thinking/learning parts of our brain (the cerebral cortex); we temporarily “lose our minds.” A child who is enraged because his brother wouldn’t give him his turn is in no shape to listen to a lesson on assertiveness training or communication strategies. A spouse who is worried sick about a family member’s health crisis is in no mood to review chapters on emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust). However, all those who are in pain desperately need the help and support of others. How can they receive that help if they are not open to listening to it?

The answer is simple: It is we who must do the listening, not the person who has the problem. When we listen, we help ease the pain in the heart of our child or partner (or anyone else, for that matter). Listening means not talking, not teaching, not consoling, not advising, not reminding, and not doing anything else. It means receiving. When we receive, we are emulating G‑d, who listens all day and all night to cries of His children. Although we sometimes feel frustrated because G‑d doesn’t “say” anything, we may not fully appreciate the gift that His listening provides. We can pour out our pain. We can sort out the tangled knots of hurt and confusion. We can find clarity. We can experience unconditional acceptance and support. At the end of it all, G‑d sends us His wisdom in the form of intuitive resolutions and inner guidance.

To listen in this receiving way to our loved ones, we must hold back our own comments (including our assessments, conclusions, advice and the advice of our sages) while the person opens up to us. We can nod. We can look directly at the speaker. We can give them the comfort of our presence (by not multi-tasking while they speak). We can repeat back what they are saying. And when they have, through the exercise of being permitted to speak freely, calmed down enough, we might share one of our pearls of Torah wisdom with them. At that point, the precious information and guidance is likely to be fully assimilatedWe can repeat back what they're saying and appreciated, providing as much comfort now as our quiet listening did just minutes before.

“I know, Sweetheart—it’s so hard when your best friend moves away. You feel like you can’t go on. It hurts so much, and of course people can’t be replaced . . . She was one of a kind, and this is so hard . . .” Nod, embrace, nod, sigh . . . nod some more, sit quietly, wait . . .

When the talking has completely stopped, put an arm around her and add, “G‑d will help you to get through this somehow—He’s always there for us.”