We all know someone who is going through a difficult time. It is usually hard to know what to do or say to help or at least not cause more harm. Isaiah called Jesus “a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief”. I do not think he meant that Jesus was depressed and needed meds. I think he meant that Jesus cared about people who were hurting. In fact, His death for our sins and His resurrection are the ultimate answers to our pain whether self-inflicted or imposed by someone else.
Over the years I have learned a few things about helping people who are suffering that apply to both emotional or physical suffering. Here are some of them:
1.Never use oversimplified clichés to explain their situation. Life is complicated and usually cannot be explained by something we read on a church sign while speeding the kids to soccer practice.
2.Listen. Listen. And listen some more. Let them express their pain even if you think they are wrong and even if they use words that make you uncomfortable. Help them express their pain rather than trying to stifle them. Sit there and be quiet for long periods of time if necessary.
3.Physically touch them in appropriate ways. People who are hurting often feel alone. Your touch can be a soothing and subtle reminder that someone is there. Be careful with those of the opposite sex. You do not want to send the wrong message or take advantage of their weak state.
4.Ask good questions and let them answer.
5.Know when you are in over your head. None of us is an expert on everything. Sometimes we need to try to get them help from a professional. Do not try to address issues that are “above your pay grade”. This can do more harm than good.
6.Do not just tell them that you are going to pray for them. If possible, take their hand and pray right there.
7.Always bring them back to the cross. Jesus suffered for and with us on the cross. Our sins and the sins of those who might have inflicted the pain are dealt with on the cross. Our selfishness is exposed on the cross. God’s willingness to stand with us is shown on the cross. At the cross we are reminded that we are not going through anything that God Himself has not gone through. On the cross we see that God redeems pain and makes it all worth it in the end.
The great promise that we can make to people on God’s behalf is not that God prevents pain, but that He never wastes it.
The greatest “tool” I have ever found to help people who are angry or hurt is to read through Psalm 13 with them. David wrote it during an extremely painful time of his life. It does not offer solutions but gives voice to pain in a very profound way.
Here it is:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.”