In our part of the country, “religious difference” means Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Once in a while, though, our funeral home has the privilege of serving Hindu or Buddhist families. Sometimes, this is uncomfortable for me; can you imagine how uncomfortable such an unfamiliar experience must be for these families?
I had no idea what I was doing as I sought to guide this family through planning their ceremonies. To be honest, they were unsure of what they were doing. With so much uncertainty, I was more that a little intimidated.
As I reflect on the process, I have developed a five-step process to dealing with any kind of uncertainty:
- Find a Point of Contact: About halfway through the service, I realized my point of contact was unfamiliar with Buddhist customs, so I sought out the Buddhist monk who would lead the ceremony. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English. Finally, I listened for a family member who spoke English well enough to navigate complex issues and was familiar with the family needs.
- Understand Their Need(s): Until this point, I probably knew more about rocket science than Buddhist funeral customs. We had served a Buddhist family not long before, but everything was totally different this time. Once I had found a point of contact, I listened for every detail of the ceremony, seeking not just to know their needs but to understand the ceremony each part supported.
- Know Your Need(s): After I understood the family’s needs, I sat down and made a list of everything I would need: facilities, materials, props, help, time. I listed out what I didn’t know, I listed out attitudes that I needed to change to genuinely serve this family, and I listed out the details of the ceremony I needed to pay special attention to. By making lists, I was able to break a complex ceremony into small, easier-to-accomplish task groups and goals.
- Connect Your Resources with Their Needs: A lot of repurposing went on with our materials and props. Having identified what I needed, I put these things in place and waited to see how the family would arrange what I had set out. We dedicated a space for their use, matched tablecloths as closely as we could, and adjusted our staff and facilities to the family’s needs.
- Be Flexible: Toward the end of the ceremony, everything changed. Nearing wit’s end after a three-day crash course on Buddhist funeral rites, it would have been easy to lose my grip on calm! But a few minor adjustments in our plans (even at the last minute) were easy to pull off and enabled a critical process to take place right when it needed to. A cool head and quick feet are acquired traits, but essential!
I can’t tell you how many situations could fit into this progression. Whether it means overcoming language or culture barriers, moving a project into uncharted territory, or evaluating your personal leadership journey, you must be courageous and refuse to let challenges become obstacles.
When an uncertain or uncomfortable beginning evolves into a rewarding experience, you’ve done more than provide great service– you’ve captured the heart of a new friend.