In light of the grief facing our campus, Charles, my Dean and friend, forwarded the following to our faculty about the pastoral act of "companioning" versus "treating." The list comes from Alan D. Wolfelt's book The Handbook for Companioning the Mourner: Eleven Essential Principles.

Beyond the issue of grief, I think these "principles" have wide applicability across a range of human relationships. As I read these, a simple word comes to mind: friend.

Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.

Companioning is about curiosity; it is not about expertise.

Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.

Companioning is about walking alongside; it is not about leading.

Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling every painful moment with words.

Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.

Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about directing those struggles.

Companioning is about being present to another person's pain; it is not about taking away the pain.

Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.

Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

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14 thoughts on “Companioning”

  1. With regard to grief, I love reading the works of Henri Nouwen. He speaks a great deal about companioning with each other through our sufferings.

    Your school is in my prayers!

  2. I like this description. I'd be interested in knowing, however, who does (and doesn't) want this sort of "companioning"--and from whom. As a minister, I found that many people (maybe especially people in grief) were simply not interested in "curiosity" or "bearing witness" or "respecting disorder and confusion," and that if they did want such open-ended friendship they would much rather get it in a bar than from their minister. At church they seemed to want something different--an explanation of sorts, even if it might be trite, which helped them balance the disorientation of trauma with a solidity and surety that they could lean on. I still don't know how to fit this anecdotal experience with the "Rogerian theology" that academically trained Christians are taught as the primary response to tragedy.

  3. I wish I were better at companioning. I've always suffered from the single-minded mentality of "treating."

  4. I would have loved some "companioning" from my church when I was left a widow in my early 40s.  Instead the pastor brought over the pile of sympathy cards that had been left at the church and that was the last I saw of him.  One friend told me she was glad she didn't know of my husband's death because she had exams that week.  People generallly don't know how to handle other people's grief and in my experience pastors fit in that group, too.

  5. I'm reminded of Henri Nouwen.  He had such a courageous heart for entering in and being present with others in their suffering, and wrote so beautifully about the centrality of "companioning" as students and devotees of Christ.  It was, and is, His way of being *with* us.  ~Peace~

  6. Ah, RD, I should have read all the way down the comment thread before posting; we were sympatico on Henri Nouwen.  Please forgive my misplaced, repetitive thread...

  7. I agree, SeniorMom. When we lost a baby between our two sons, a Christian "friend" came over one evening to tell me that she was withdrawing her friendship from me because I was "quenching her spirit."  I wasn't responding on cue to her bright-side-God's-in-control-be-happy brand of "encouragement." Seriously. I figure one of these days, grief is going to overtake those who are so dismissive, condescending, and doling out answers cafeteria style. And it won't be pretty for them.

  8. Hello Patricia,
    Forgive me if you've mentioned this before and I failed to recall this  - my very belated sympathies.
    Putting together things you've shared over your cummulative posts, you've really been through quite a bit.
    Your compassion and "companionship" here in this blog overflows like cool refreshing water and I'm sure
    many (if not all) of us always look forward to what you have to share.   Obviously, you've paid a huge personal price to gain the wisdom and compassion - to our benefit - thanks for YOUR "companionship".

    Gary Y.

  9. Oh to find such a companion/friend. Oh to be such a companion/friend. I am having a rough day today with personal grief of my own and know that I am neither approachable nor pleasant to be with at the moment. In the midst of that, my dog had the simplicity of companionable animal love to follow me when I retreated into the other room anyway. She nudged at me with her nose and is sitting at my feet now as I type. I physically felt the comfort of her presence as the weight lifted for a moment. She is a wonderful expression of how truly comforting it is when another is there to "companion" us. Glad to have recently discovered your blog.

  10. Thank you so much, Gary. Your "companioning" here alongside me and the rest of the E.T. community is also a welcome help to me each day.

    We lost Gracie when I was 2-3 months along on April 22, 1995.  A few days before, we were at the hospital for an emergency ultrasound, sitting in the waiting room when the news broke in about the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a tough week, and not just for us. But people often underestimate the loss of a pregnancy as being a true, grief-worthy loss. Hence, the dismissive "you can have more children, so get over it" mentality, especially among Christians who think their "job" is give you an answer to "fix it."

  11. As someone who has lost two children I know from experience the tendency for Christians to respond to such events with a Bible verse and an "I'll keep you in my prayers".  My two babies were cremated and the ashes interred in family gravesites.  It wasn't until last year that I was brave enough to visit the graves, and this only after much reflection and private grief that is more than 40 years old.  Somehow people see grief for a miscarriage or a child that may have lived only a few hours or days as something less profound than for an older child or adult.  If the church community is to fulfill its call to mourn with those who mourn it needs to be there in such situations, consistently, and recognize that grief isn't over in hours or even days.  The church needs to companion grief's survivors, adults and children, as long as needed, and sometimes that's a long, long time.  And Henri Nouwen was a fine companion for me, also.

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