Actions Speak Louder Than Words.
“Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.” – Proverbs 25:20 NLT
I love this verse. There’s something a bit sarcastic and humorous about it that just brings a smile to my face. I think a big part of what I like about it is that it is so true. When we’re down or going through a difficult time, there’s nothing worse than that person who walks into the room with a big smile on their face and a mission to motivate us like a cheerleader with a set of pom-poms. There are times when silence is golden and saying nothing really is the best policy. There is nothing wrong with a little positive motivation, but timing is so important, and empathy is even more critical. It is difficult to receive the upbeat cheers of an individual who you believe has no clue what you’re going through. And if we’re honest, many of us can be guilty of trying to cheer someone up before we even understand why they’re down to begin with.
Think about the analogy used in this verse. Singing cheerful songs to a despondent person is like taking their coat away from them on a cold winter’s day. It is robbing them of the one thing in which they are finding comfort and consolation. Trying to motivate someone into a sense of joy when they are going through difficulty is callously robbing them of their only source of comfort at that moment. They are down for a reason, and sometimes there is a sense in which our despondency is a source of solace to us. Singing happy songs does not make the problem go away, no more than taking away someone’s coat on a winter’s day makes the cold go away. They are wearing a coat for a reason. It’s cold. They have a heavy heart for a reason. Do we take the time to find out what that reason is? To not do so is like pouring vinegar in a wound. It will burn and sting, but prove to be of no value. There is no medicinal value in vinegar. It is not healing or helpful, only painful.
So what’s the point? I think Solomon is telling us that we need to be sensitive to the needs of those to whom we are attempting to minister. Take the time to discover the source of their pain and heartache, don’t just try to alleviate it. Taking their coat doesn’t get rid of the cold. Getting them to sing happy songs doesn’t get rid of their sorrow. Empathy requires time and effort. We have to slow down long enough to understand what is going on. Sometimes we just need to stop singing and start listening. Stop cheering and begin hearing what they have to say. There is a time when words of cheer are appropriate. “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy to the body” (Proverbs 16:24 NLT). “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11 NLT). “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up” (Proverbs 12:25 NLT). Timing really is everything. Understanding and empathy are everything else. Think before you cheer.
Father, give me a sensitive heart and a compassion for those around me. Don’t let me be a cheerleader, but a true friend who will be there in times of difficulty to comfort, encourage and care. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men