Monday, March 7, 2011

Please Find Something Else to Talk About

A couple of weeks ago, Dayna and I went to see a movie. I’m cheap, so we try to make the afternoon matinee and save a couple of bucks. You know who else likes afternoon matinees: a good many of our older population. In Hot Springs we have a lot that demographic. In fact, I’m rapidly becoming that demographic.

Anyway, we took our seats near the back on the aisle. There was an older couple sitting just across the aisle from us. And just after we sat down, another older couple slowly made their way down the aisle past us. They were moving gingerly because the man, walking with a slight limp, was trying to balance a couple of cokes in his hands while hugging a huge bucket of popcorn to his chelly (that’s what you call that part of the body when you can’t tell where the chest stops and the belly begins). He was a big ol’ boy for sure. I was fearful that either a coke or the popcorn was about to say hello to the floor, but he made it. He scooted sideways past the aisle seat, then wiggled down into the next one. Score! The dude made it, and he wasn’t in that seat two seconds before he had a handful of popcorn on the way to his mouth. I liked him immediately because here was a man after my own heart, a man who understands that movies are more about the popcorn than anything else.

His wife followed behind leaning on a cane. She was rather rotund herself, wide at the hip, and more or less dragging a leg. She got to her seat, turned slightly toward Dayna and me, found the arm of the seat behind her to catch her balance, tried to hang her cane on the seat in front of her, then made a quick twist to her left and semi-collapsed into the seat. The seat held. She let out a sigh of what I thought was relief but soon discovered it was one of anguish. All was not well. Poor thing couldn’t settle. So she grabbed the top of the seat in front of her, pulled herself up, and announced to anyone within earshot that all that wiggling to sit down twisted up her pants, and she had to get them straightened out. She proceeded to grab the back of her pants with one hand, the front of her pants with the other, and give them a firm jerk to the right. Now, all was well.

But the old man seated behind her just couldn’t resist asking her about her ailments. He saw the cane. He watched how hard it was for her to walk and sit down and get up. So before she sat back down, he popped the question: “Something wrong with your leg?” It was at this point that I leaned over to Dayna and said, “You watch, he’s not interested in her leg. I bet he just wants to tell her about his own ailments.” And I nailed it. No sooner did she start to talk about the hematoma in her calf that made it so hard to blah, blah, blah, blah, then he started rattling on about his two knee replacements blah, blah, blah, blah. He didn’t even wait for her to finish her sentence. I’m not sure either one heard a word of what the other said; they appeared to be happy just to talk about their own aches and pains. And two other people in the picture seemed to be happy as well: the wife of double knee replacement and the husband of hematoma. I think they were happy that their spouse had found somebody else besides them to jabber on and on with about their sufferings. Oh, and I was happy too, because I leaned over to Dayna and whispered, “I just got an idea for my blog.”

Why is it that some folks feel such a need to discuss all their ailments? I work out a lot. I stay in good shape, but I get dinged up now and then, and I’ll admit that when I do I like to tell people what’s hurting. Why is that? Am I trying to explain why I’m moving slower than usual? Am I wanting sympathy? Am I really saying that I can’t believe this is happening to me and by talking it out sort of come to grips with it? I don’t know. Maybe a little bit of all of that. People don’t suffer in silence very well. Most want to talk about it: especially their physical sufferings.

Being a pastor, I hear lots of this stuff. That’s okay. I want to know what’s going on in the lives of my church family. I want to know how they hurt so I can pray for them more specifically. But I weary of the ouch by ouch description that some seem so compelled to share. Listen to too much of that and it will suck the life right out of you. That’s why I sometimes find myself saying to them, “Please find something else to talk about. If you don’t, people will start to identify you with your ailments. They’ll want to hide when they see you coming because you wear them out.” Some folks learn; some folks don’t. I remember visiting a cancer patient at the hospital who was suffering so much from her cancer that even morphine couldn't knock it out. And though she didn’t say it, I think she suffered most by having to listen to another visitor in the room chronicle the history and migrations of his various and sundry back pains. (The pain he was causing the patient and me was located just below the back.) I didn’t say it to him, but I should have: “Please find something else to talk about it. Seriously. The patient has suffered enough." I walked out of that hospital room worn out.

But you know what’s uplifting? It’s a visit like I had just today in the hospital with an older lady who suffered a terrible fall, peeled most of the skin off her arm, some off her face, and has the skin on both knees stapled together. I asked her what happened. She told me. She was brief and too the point, because that’s not what she really wanted to talk about. She wanted to talk about her blessings. She wanted to talk about God’s watch-care and providence in her life. She wanted to talk about some good news concerning a daughter battling cancer. We prayed over these things and for her return to health. And as I was leaving she smiled and said, “This too shall pass.” I walked out of that hospital room energized, humbled, and grateful that God would put such a saint in life. And a Scripture came to mind: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 6:16-17).

If we live long enough, we’ll all experience our share of ailments. It's okay to talk about them. It's even healthy to talk about them to some extent, but keep it short, okay. Don't pitch a tent and live there. Move the conversation along. Find something else to talk about: the ballgame, the weather, gas prices, your hobbies, your dreams, your family, or maybe even your blessings. Not only will you find yourself lifted up and encouraged, you might find you have a few more listeners too.

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