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.
Listen Carefully
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 or ministry spouse, or a Bible study leader, or 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
Don’t “Fix”
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 if the person even wants feedback or counsel
before you offer it. People may not be ready to hear counsel yet and telling
them now may be a wasted effort and turn them off to you.
While “venting” is not the goal, please realize that when a
person chooses to unburden their heart and soul to you that is a privilege you
should not take lightly. They must really trust you to share their pain with
Be Gentle
If a friend agrees to hear your feedback or counsel, be
gentle in response. Watch their face for non-verbal communication, and if you
see a stiffening up toward what you are saying, ask if they  want you to continue or stop. Be sure to the
best of your ability that the person understands you are their friend and
helper and that what you say is being said in love. Be careful not to be harsh
in your reply. Even if your friend needs a rebuke or correction, he or she may
accept it better if you are gentle toward them even though you may have
difficult things to say.
Speak Truth in Love with Wisdom
We all need to take care not to be chiding in our tone toward the one who comes to us for comfort. A lecture is most likely not what our friend needs from us at this point. 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.
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, realize that
your friend may have a crystal clear understanding of God’s sovereignty. Your friend may know the Word of God very well, but it doesn’t mean he or
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.
Be the soft landing.