Helping Hurting People
Love in Action
"Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
This verse is what friendship is all about. There are many beautiful portrayals of intimate relationships in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Barnabas and Paul come to mind. If you read them you will see that they helped each other when they were in peril, distress, or just needed someone on their side. The reason I believe these friendships are written about in the Scriptures is that they are examples of how friends love selflessly and will go above and beyond to lift up and support those going through the trial. In addition, we are called to offer love and friendship to all people, even our enemies. Christ modeled this for us, as well as the Apostles and churches, and many Old Testament characters.
Remind Them of the Promises of God
People need hope, and standing on the promises of God are where we find it. I have been helped many times when people have reminded me of those promises. Here are a few creative ideas to do this.
- Buy them a book of Bible promises to meditate on. I bought one recently for a friend and it had several topics, such as fear, illness, faith, etc.
- A friend of mine made me a promise jar filled with decorative strips of paper with Bible promises on them. She also put a label on it that says, "Lori's Promises From God: One a day for good spiritual health." Here is an example: "You say 'I feel all alone.' God says, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). I cannot tell you how these promises got me through some rough days.
- Send a card, email, or text saying something like, "I just came across this passage and thought of you. I hope it will encourage you."
Don't Use God's Word As a Weapon
You may ask, "How can God's word be used as a weapon? It's God's word."
There is a way to use a truth in God's word to shame or judge someone or to use it as a pat answer. Let me give you a few examples.
1.)You are in a lot of fear and anxiety over a very serious diagnosis of your spouse and there is a loss of income due to their not being able to work. Your car has broken down and there's no money to fix it and you need to work. To top it off, your child comes home and tells you he is being bullied at school. You are completely overwhelmed and feeling helpless and hopeless. You share with a friend who feels you are wrong to be so upset and worried.
2.) You have been diagnosed with severe depression. You have gone to the doctor and been placed on an antidepressant and you are now seeing a counselor. Your pastor finds out and tells you your problem is a lack of faith and you need to read the Bible and pray more, get out and help people (despite the fact you can barely brush your teeth in the morning), and that taking medication is wrong.
Both the friend and your pastor say the following:
"You shouldn't be so upset. Remember Philippians 4:6-7 - "Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Jesus said, "Why are you so afraid, have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40).
You just need to trust God more. Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths."
"Satan is out to get you. You're not putting on the whole armor of God (Ephes. 6:10).
Are these verses true? Of course. Is faith always necessary - absolutely? But they were either delivered in judgment or flippantly and dismissively. Also, in the matter of #2, some clergy and Christians do not recognize that the brain is an organ like the heart or pituitary gland. Doctors and research scientist know about brain chemistry imbalances that cause depression, bipolar etc. When you have a heart valve problem, you are not often told it's because you have no faith (although some of the word of faith and prosperity gospel folks will). You are not told taking medication is wrong.
There is a way to share God's promises and truths in a loving and encouraging way. Sometimes God uses these times of adversity to draw people to Himself and to teach them something. If often is a process. We need to be considerate of that when people share their burdens.
Empathy and Compassion
Hurting people need friends who will listen to them, who show empathy, compassion, and encouragement. Lori Chandler describes empathy and compassion in this way:
Empathy is a gateway to compassion. It’s understanding how someone feels, and trying to imagine how that might feel for you — it’s a mode of relating. Compassion takes it further. It’s feeling what that person is feeling, holding it, accepting it, and taking some kind of action. 1
There is nothing more comforting than to have someone to listen with empathy and compassion. Too often we are quick to give advice, remedies, meaningless cliches, or pat answers. These are hurtful because they are flippant or minimizing. There is nothing worse than made to feel stupid or overly dramatic after sharing a deep pain.
I knew a woman who told me about her friend whose son died. The man was a school bus driver. In an effort to show off her brilliant remedy to grief, she told the woman not to be sad because the son was up in heaven driving children all over God's kingdom. Such a terribly dismissive, foolhardy, and hurtful thing to say.
We must treasure the wounds of others weep with those who weep.
Empathy is the gateway to compassion."— Lori Chandler
Every hurting person feels the need to have someone listen to their heart and their thoughts. An active listener is a selfless, caring listener; they are hearing what the person is are sharing, not just what they are saying. Selfless listening means you are not thinking about what you will say next, searching your mind for something profound to say, giving your opinion, or brainstorming for solutions.
To show you are listening carefully, make eye contact. Pay attention to their face, body language, and tone of voice, and realize they are alert to your facial expressions and body language as well. Fidgeting, looking tense, frowning, expressions of disapproval, shock, or judgment are all obvious signs you are not listening impartially. They need to see the evidence you care.
An occasional comment, question, or nod can show them you're listening with sincerity. Consider the following:
"That must be hard."
Asking questions for clarification shows you are interested.
Active listening is not easy. There are people in the world that it is in their nature to be good listeners, but as a rule, we are used to making it about us.
If we truly want to be good listeners and good friends, we need to train or retrain ourselves.
Encourage and Affirm
Nothing is more refreshing than a word of encouragement or affirmation. That's why I love Barnabas, Paul's new friend in the faith. Paul, who was Saul prior to his conversion, was known by everyone to be a terrible persecutor of the church. He had people imprisoned and killed for their faith in Christ. So when he was converted, the church had trouble believing he was a new creature in Christ. Barnabas, whose name meant "Son of encouragement" came alongside Paul as a friend and advocate. People in pain need encouragement like a body needs water in the desert. Here are some ways we can encourage.
- Tell them you love and care about them. Then show them by being available to listen, pray with them, and help in whatever way you can.
- Express to them how valuable they are to God and to you, especially if they are down on themselves. You might share a Scripture along these lines.
- Affirm with honest, positive insights.
- Magnify the Lord to them.
- Be a faithful friend they can count on.
- Be their advocate and cheerleader.
- Check in with them to see how things are going.
- Ask the Lord for insight and wisdom to share.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1 Thess. 5:11).
Allow People to Hurt
I have some friends who were recently terribly betrayed and the consequences were very serious and their wounds were very deep. Trying to be helpful, I waxed wise in order to make them feel better. I shared what helped me in totally unrelated situations. I realized after a while that what they needed was to grieve and process their pain in order to heal. My part should have been to just listen, tell them I loved them and was praying for them.
Don' t make it about you. When a person is sharing, don't delve into your story and leave theirs in the dust. They are also not seeking your opinion. It is not about you!
It's not wrong or bad to be wounded. If we are injured or sick in our body, pain and suffering are normal and there is almost always a process of recovery. I remember when I broke my ankle and had radical surgery. My ankle has so much hardware I could put Home Depot out of business. I spent six weeks in a cast and the pain was pretty miserable. After the cast was off, they took out the staples. It was so painful I almost slapped the man who was doing it. After that, I had a very rigorous, painful physical therapy. I had to go through all that to heal.
It's the same when someone is hurting emotionally. In an offer to help, people often say, "Oh, you shouldn't feel that way." This is often followed by words of wisdom (wisdom in the speaker's mind), platitudes, pat answers, testimonies of how you handled it successfully. When we do that, it minimizes or dismisses the person's pain. Without meaning to, we've just made them feel they are wrong or bad for their struggle and suffering.
At all costs avoid the terms "You should," "You shouldn't," "If you just," and "At least."
There are times when sharing your story is helpful but listening comes first. I would add don't play the hero. In other words, when you share your experience don't present yourself as having mastered the issue. Share instead your struggle, how you found hope and help.
Respect Their Privacy
When a person confides in you about a personal problem it is a sacred trust. It's important to respect their privacy. Don't call up the prayer chain with a problem that is very personal and delicate without getting permission from the person first. For example, if your friend has a drinking or marital problem, don't call the prayer chain. It's so easily turned into gossip and judgment.
Don't share it with people in the church without asking the person first. Again, it can turn into gossip and judgment and invades the person's privacy. Ask him or her if you can process it with a trustworthy confidante or with the pastor. If she says no, don't do it.
Ask before you visit. If someone is really sick, they may not be up to having a nice chat. They need rest. People who are sick feel pressured to entertain and converse with visitors.
"Do to others as you would like them to do to you" (Luke 6:31).
Meet Practical Needs.
- This would come in the form of meals, shopping, domestic chores, transportation, child care, etc. Ask first, as not everyone wants or needs this kind of help.
- If they are sick or injured and have needs for when they come home, such as bathroom railings, or set up of medications, ask them what their needs are and see if you can help. Also, ask if you can call upon someone to help meet that need, especially if you are not skilled in the task at hand.
“ For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me’" (Matt. 25:34-36).
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?— James 2:15-16
Don't Be a Fixer
Some people are naturally born fixers. They have the gift of assessing a problem, troubleshooting, and implementing a solution. This is a good gift to have if there is a problem with something mechanical, technological, logistical, financial, anything practical. But when it comes to people who are going through a personal trial and they confide in you, fixing is more of a detriment than a help.
It's not uncommon when a wife confides in her husband about something she's struggling with that he goes into fixer mode when all she wants is for her husband to listen and understand. She wants a heart to heart, not a hammer and nails. This applies to any type of relationship. Unless the hurting person asks for a solution it isn't usually wise to give one. But of course, it depends on the circumstances and the type of relationship.
Use Your God Given Gifts
Each of us has spiritual gifts that God has given us to serve Him and serve others. Don't hesitate to use those gifts. In addition, don't be afraid to exercise other gifts as well. If we don't use our gifts in service, we will collect dust on our hearts which will weigh us down.
"If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging...And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly" (Romans 12:8).
Do Everything With Love.
Paul commands us, "Do everything with love. (1 Corinthians 16:14). In fact, Paul talks much about love throughout 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul tells us that all our gifts and good deeds are meaningless if we don't do them out of love. Again, we must check our motives for doing good and for sharing the Gospel. Do we do it because we should? Because we can? Or do we do it out of love for God and love for others?
At the end of chapter 13, Paul tells us this, "Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love."
Do It In Jesus' Name
When we give to and help others it should not be done in our name, or even our church's name, but in the name above all names, Jesus Christ. For we do it to give Him glory.
"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17).
"Speak as though God himself were speaking through you" (1 Peter 4:11a).
Chandler, L. (2015, October 26) The Difference Between Empathy and Compassion is Everything.
Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/compassion-is-an-action-not-an-emotion
Other Relevant Articles by Lori Colbo
- Responding to the Trials of Others: Think Before You Speak
When people we know share their trials with us, we often respond in ways that are less than helpful, and sometimes only add insult to injury. Learn here what to do and what not to do.
- Barnabas: A Man Who Lived Up to His Name
Barnabas' name meant "Son of Encouragement." Truly he was a man who lived a life encouraging others.
- Remarkable Friendships in the Bible
In the pages of the Bible, we discover some of the greatest examples of friendship in the faith. May of these friends sacrificed even their own lives in order to be reach out as a friend.
© 2011 Lori Colbo