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How to Help a Hurting Person
As Christians, we are taught to love other people and help them if we can. But what do we do when confronted with the hurt and emotional pain of others?
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I stopped dying my hair dark blonde. Grey patches and ugly grey roots were starting to show. I didn't bother to color my hair because I knew that I would be losing it shortly. I wanted my hair short so there would be less strands on my pillow each morning as chemo walloped my body. So I went to the hair salon knowing that this would be the last haircut for a while.
My regular hairdresser had moved away, so the salon assigned me to someone new. A lovely thirty-something woman came to look after me. She seemed like the bubbling outgoing kind. “Don’t you want a color as well as a haircut? You have a lot of grey and your roots….” she started.
“I am not going to color it because I going to be going through chemo,” I said, cutting her short. Whoa, things quickly became quiet.
The hairdresser struggled to find words to talk to me. She cut my hair in silence for a few minutes, and then started spouting every Christian platitude in the book. I longed to tell her I was a Christian who understood that God loved me, wanted the best for me, and could heal me, but I couldn’t. I was too close to tears to speak and didn’t want to start crying in the chair. I was acutely aware of people in the mall glancing at me as they walked by the front entrance of the hair salon.
I managed to say, “Please stop.” She was quiet again and wished me luck at the end of the appointment. I could feel her longing to help me, but her well-meaning attempt at help just made me want to run in the other direction.
The longing to empathize
Like my hairdresser, wev Christians feel a special empathy towards a person in pain, especially when we have gone through the same fiery trials ourselves. We long to comfort people when they are going through the loss of a loved one, agonizing over a marriage breakup, or struggling with a life threatening illness. It is very hard, though for us to know what to do that would meet their needs.
When a person is hurting, she may feel like she is the only person in the world who is experiencing pain. Her situation may be something that is totally new and frightening to her. Her belief in her uniqueness may become a wall for her to retreat behind. Few words, however well intended, can comfort her.
As Christians, we long to have the right words to say to her that provide hope and comfort, but eloquence often eludes us. Sometimes it is best for us to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
On rare occasions, our tongues can say something beneficial that is like choice silver (Prov. 10:20) or a rare jewel (Prov. 20:15). Most of the time, our words are not what people need. People are often just looking for someone to listen who is willing to understand their situation.
I dreaded sharing the news about my cancer with others at first. I was worried that I would be flooded with unwanted advice and Christian platitudes. I was not ready to hear about gross veggie juices that “cured” their friends (yech! – no offense intended for juice fans). I could not focus on unasked for Bible verses that I already believed and knew well.
I told my close friends first and then contacted some key people in my church. I asked them for prayer. When I walked into services, different people gently approached me, saying things like, “I was sorry to hear about your situation” or “I am praying for you.” This approach was just what I needed. It showed me that people cared without requiring me to talk about my illness. It also gave me the opportunity to discuss the challenges of having cancer if that is what I wanted to do. Most of the time, just knowing people cared was enough to comfort me.
Sometimes trusted friends quoting bible verses can be helpful. However, when someone is hurting, he may not be in a fit state to accept it. His pain may make him overly sensitive to what people say. He may so emotionally drained from his pain that the last thing he feels like doing is praying and doing Bible study. True friends will stick by him no matter what spiritual state he is in (Proverbs 17:17).
In my situation, most of the help I needed could only come from people who are very close to me, have earned my trust, and fully understand my emotional makeup. Sometimes, a friend can say something diplomatic or wise that also opens my eyes to issues that I must address.
Emotional pain is usually a temporary state, however. Those who mourn are blessed, and they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4) God gives us the ability to help others. He comforts us when we are troubled so that we can comfort others, when needed (2 Corinthians 1:4).
The spritual battleground
When a people are hurting, thy are vulnerable to Satan, who walks around like a lion ready to devour them. They may be dragged down by negative attitudes and false beliefs. If a person in this situation trusts us and has a close relationship with us, we may feel compelled to confront these evil influences with Biblical principles. In most cases, we can pray as stated in the Lord's Prayer that God will "deliver us (and him) from evil."
Help that is beneficial
Acts of service, like driving me to doctor’s appointments or checking up on me are also a big help. A few friends sat with me while I was having chemo. I really appreciated this service because few things are more boring than sitting with an IV in one hand for an hour or more. One time, I actually had an allergic reaction to a chemo drug and was stuck in the oncology clinic for four hours. One of my friends had a phobia about needles and had to be warned when I got poked, but she was brave enough to sit with me. Her love for me overcame her initial fear.
At other times, having a friend just being available to talk on the phone or over coffee was just what I needed. Jesus said that the true measure of a man's life is to lay down his life for his friends (1 John 3:16). We can narrow this verse down to thinking of that love being a willingness to give up our lives for others. A broader meaning can be that we sacrifice our time and resources as well.
When the hurt is self-inflicted
Sometimes, people bring pain on themselves because of their own emotional baggage. We have to be careful not to indulge people with our time and our sympathy if they stay stuck in old hurts and hang-ups. They should be on a journey to emotional healing. I have been helped by friends who gently remind me not to feel sorry for myself or try to fix a situation on my own strength. What they say may hurt my feelings at the time, but benefits me in the long run (Proverbs 27:6).
The best approach
All in all, the best way to help people who are hurting is to be guided by love and by God through prayer. God reveals the best way to help hurting people to us. As for me, I am blessed by wonderful friends who continue to support me on my journey through my cancer. My prognosis is good, and I am no longer hurting, thanks in part to friends who were willing to go out of their way to help a hurting person.
© 2013 Carola Finch