Even the most well-meaning person can hurt someone who is struggling more than help them if they aren’t careful.
We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to find solutions to every problem. Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply show up for someone who’s hurting.
Here are ten things to keep in mind when you do:
- Engage them as a helper, not as a fixer. You are only a partial knower, you can only ever be a partial fixer. Jesus is the only perfect fixer.Remember it is possible God providentially arranged for your involvement with the suffering person to grow you as you watch someone else go through suffering.
- Remember, God is in control. But very often a person who is struggling needs time and space to remember and accept that he is. Gently and patiently point people to Jesus.
- Be careful not to assume you fully understand what they are going through. You don’t. If you think you fully understand you will tell them what worked for you and when it doesn’t help, you will blame them. Remember the impact of tragedy is different for everyone and so is the process of grieving.
- Don’t minimize the suffering and difficulty a person is experiencing. Tragedy and suffering are about more than the source event. Tragedy destroys normal expectations and experiences for life and changes a person’s worldview. The best gift you can give is to take time to understand their story and talk about the roots of the emotions they express.
- Be very careful about identifying specific purposes for the evil and suffering someone is experiencing. Too often we say things in an effort to help someone feel better but what we actually communicate is that they shouldn’t be as upset as they are.
- “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean you unload all the truth you know in the moment. Context matters. What is the most gracious and appropriate truth right now? Give them that one.
- Understand that suffering people often speak “felt truth” as if it is true. In other words, hurting people often say heretical things. Don’t feel like you have to correct their theology in the middle of their pain. Weep with those who weep.
- Be careful not to offer false hope by saying what the Bible doesn’t say. Often suffering people need to loosen their grip on promises God never gave. Too often they have a grip because some well-meaning person told them an untruth trying to make them feel better in the beginning of the situation.
- Trust God’s character and the hope he has given. A person’s willingness to trust God is anchored to what they believe about his character. Give appropriate truth and appropriate time and space.
- Presence is powerful. Words are dangerous. Engage them, pray for them and with them, use words with care to “give grace to those who hear.”
**Adapted from a seminar hosted by Andrew Dealy and Jason Kovacs at Austin Stone Church