How to Help a Suffering Sinner
There are three individuals in my church (and probably yours too) right now who need help:
- An elderly woman who has many health problems
- A young woman who struggles with singleness
- A wife grieved by infertility
What do all of these individuals have in common? They are suffering—some physically, some spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. But they may have something else in common, too: They may be stuck in sin. The elderly woman has become cranky, harsh, and sharp-tongued. The young woman is angry and bitter that she is still single, and it shows in snarky comments about happy couples. The couple struggling with infertility is full of envy as their friends begin to have babies. They fall into chronic discontentment, and begin to nitpick at each other.
Each of these individuals has a trial that is not their fault, but it has produced a sinful response. Sometimes, it is hard for us as their friends to confront them in their sin and hold them accountable, because their suffering is so raw and unending. Are we doing them a favor when we overlook their sin and make excuses for them? Maybe for a time this might be appropriate, as they each adjust to the difficulty or trial. But if this sin becomes a pattern, as it has with the examples above, then we as their Christian brothers and sisters must help them to repent and change.
What does this look like in practice? How can we approach a suffering sister about her sin? In some ways, it’s the same as any other restorative intervention. For example, we must show them love, listen carefully to understand how they fell into sin, and then point out the areas where their thinking has strayed from the Truth. But in a case that includes intense suffering, there are a few things you must have before you go forward.
Do you know this person? I mean, really know them? Have you taken the time to see what their life is like? Do they need help, and have you offered that help? Do you pray for and with them, and do you ask them specifically how you should pray? Do you care about their problem as Christ would if he were a member of your church? Have you invited them to share with you about the life they hoped would be? Have you allowed them to grieve the loss of that hope? Gaining involvement with a suffering sister is your first step toward helping her to see her sin and to repent. Go hang out with her sometimes, and get to know her. This will go a long way toward giving credence to your exhortation about her sin when the time comes. As they say, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Do you know what this person is going through? Taking the elderly lady as an example, what are her health problems, and how do they affect her body and mind? Many medications have side effects that cause problems with thinking, and you need to know about this. What kind of pain or sickness is she suffering from, and how does it affect her socially, functionally, and emotionally? Does it keep her awake at night? The single lady probably has a sense of isolation, as she is left out of the activities at church that are geared toward families. Is she lonely? Fearful? Depressed? How can you help her if you don’t know what she is going through? How about the infertile wife? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be childless in a world of pregnant women and babies? Read some articles about the topic if you’re unfamiliar. Before you can approach her about her sin, you must know and understand as fully as you can the depth of her suffering.
Even if you haven’t had long-standing trials or suffered a lifelong difficulty, you still must find a way to identify with the person whose sin the Lord has called you to point out. Perhaps you need to look for another believer who has had a similar trial and the Lord has delivered them from a sinful response. Go visit with that person, and ask them what Scriptures or biblical principles helped them most. Read blog posts and articles written by individuals who struggled with bitterness or despair as a result of their loss. You absolutely must have some kind of clue as to the temptations that are unique to that particular trial.
Everyone had an expectation of the way their life would go, and most of us did not see it turn out exactly that way. While some disappointments are harder to take than others, we all have had something we dearly wanted, but did not get. As you think about your own losses, put them up next to those of the person who is now stuck in sin because of hers. In what areas can you relate? Have you been tempted to sin in response to your own losses? How did you handle that temptation? A little research and soul search will go a long way toward equipping you to help bring restoration to a suffering sinner.
If your suffering sister is really stuck in a pattern of sin in response to her trial, you must help her find victory over it. But don’t even begin to think about approaching her until you have gained involvement in her life; sought insight about her pain; and learned to identify with her suffering. Only then will you be able to speak the truth in love, and lead her to repentance. Pray that the Lord would give you wise words of counsel for her. He is able to equip you to help her as you walk in obedience to His commands.