Most people like to help others and that is a good thing, because we are surrounded by hurting people every day. They may be in your small group or Bible study, over your backyard fence or someone you meet in line at the store.
The people in your circle of influence may share with you the difficulties and trials they have going on in their lives because their burden is too heavy to bear alone. They may want counsel, or comfort, a suggestion or solution or they may just want someone to say they understand how hard life is right now. What do we say, and how should we respond when a person entrusts us with things that are important to them? How can we help them in a meaningful way?
I am addressing this because I have seen and experienced the rather painful results of the responses of well-meaning people who think they are helping a hurting person. Some well intentioned answers can bring more pain and sorrow and add to their load of pain. Responding to someone who is hurting requires a sensitive spirit.
You must listen carefully to what the person is telling you with compassion and empathy. Let them tell their story! You may be the first person (or people) she has trusted enough to bare her soul to and your reaction to her will be important as to where she goes from there.
It is very difficult for someone in a leadership position to share anything about them self. There is the misperception that because a person is a pastor’s wife, or a Bible study leader, or even a Biblical Counselor that they don’t have times in life that get them down. We tend to think of these people as “above it all” and think they don’t have problems. Nothing could be further from the truth! Those in the ministry have the usual problems of daily life plus all the care and concern of the ministry. Those in leadership are often lonely and isolated. They have often had their confidence violated by someone they trusted so naturally, they are reticent to open up to anyone. When someone is willing to share a part of their life with you because they are in some kind of pain the natural inclination is to want to fix it or to offer them an opinion or counsel that you believe will help them. This can be a mistake.
First, ask her if she even wants feedback or counsel before you offer it. She may not be ready to hear counsel yet and telling her now may be a wasted effort and turn her off to you. While I don’t condone “venting” as a rule, please realize that when a person chooses to unburden their heart and soul to you that is a privilege you should not take lightly. She must really trust you to share her pain with you.
If she agrees to hear your feedback or counsel I again urge you to be gentle toward her. Watch her face for non-verbal communication and if you see she is stiffening up toward what you are telling her, ask her if she wants you to continue or stop. Be sure to the best of your ability that she understands you are her friend and helper and that what you say is being said in love and be careful not to be harsh in your reply. Even if she needs a rebuke or correction, she may accept it better if you are gentle toward her even though you may have difficult things to say to her.
Many of the things we struggle to accept are related to God’s sovereignty over our lives. Understanding God’s sovereignty does not negate our human emotions or feelings. Talk about God’s sovereignty must be balanced with God’s love, otherwise it is cruelty. If you are going to give counsel about this, realize that she may have a crystal clear understanding of God’s sovereignty and that she may know the Word of God very well; but it doesn’t mean she does not hurt anyway! Often our emotions are in conflict with our theology and even the strongest warrior sometimes has to find a place to cry.
Please be careful not to be chiding in your tone toward the one who comes to you for comfort. She knows what she knows…and a lecture is most likely not what she needs from you at that point. I would venture to guess she knows that the place to go is the Word of God, and perhaps she has done this already… God’s Word is never lacking for wisdom and it is in that very Word that we see how Paul was comforted by the people around him. He frequently notes how his misery was decreased by a visit from Timothy, or John Mark.
These things are important to keep in mind as you desire to help others in a meaningful way.
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