Mrs. Johnson’s eyes brimmed with tears as she shook Pastor’s hand after the morning service.
Pastor already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask her. In fact, to some extent, he dreaded asking her, knowing it could lead to actual tears, and thought about not saying anything.
Still, he posed the obvious question, “Edna, you seem very sad this morning. What’s wrong?”
“Frank,” she said, “It’s Frank. You know I lost him at Thanksgiving three years ago. I miss him so much.”
Pastor nodded. “I’m sorry, Edna. I’m sure it feels like you just lost him yesterday.”
Mrs. Johnson sniffed, wiped her eye, and her voice trembled, “Yes, it feels just like yesterday.”
Pastor gave her a little hug and said, “It’s normal for you to grieve, Edna. Frank was a good man and you two had a lot of good years together. Anyone would feel sad in your situation.”
“Thank you, Pastor,” she said. She turned, her face just a degree or two brighter, and walked away.
Just another meaningless, non-consequential encounter? Not at all.
Pastor took a minute from his day to provide a great blessing to Edna Johnson; the blessing of emotional validation. It’s a gift anyone can learn to give during the holiday season (or any other time of year) to those who are hurting or simply upset.
Emotional validation involves learning about, understanding and accepting another person’s emotional experience. It is the opposite of rejecting, ignoring, or judging their experience.
Emotional validation can be a useful tool for emotionally intelligent pastors. It works like this:
First, Pastor named her emotion: “Why, Edna, you seem very sad.” (In this case, an easy guess.)
Second, after she confirmed that he was reading her correctly, Pastor acknowledged the source of her emotion: the loss three years ago of her husband, Frank. He made sure that she knew he understood what had upset her.
Third, Pastor validated her emotion. He assured her that anyone might feel sad and cry in her situation.
Simple. Often effective in helping others through a moment of high emotion.
Pastor could have ignored her feelings. He could have simply dispensed a platitude, “No, don’t cry, Edna, everything will be ok.” He could have thought to himself, “It’s been three years already; you need to move on, Edna.”
Instead, he gave the special gift of emotional validation. You may have many opportunities to do something similar during the coming holiday season! Name the emotion, acknowledge the source and validate the emotion. Hurting people will love you for doing so.