Do You Know What to Say to the Suffering?
Recently, a lady in our church had some serious medical issues, and several of us were chatting about how we could best help her. Someone mentioned setting up a visitor schedule, and some concerns were raised about actually visiting our sick friend. One lady said, “Oh, I’m not sure I want to go over there. I’m afraid I might say the wrong thing, or that I just won’t know what to say.” Several of our friends agreed, and before I knew it, there were care calendars for childcare, meals, and cleaning, but only vague intentions expressed as far as visiting just to offer companionship.
Why are we so fearful of visiting those who are sick or struggling? Do we think that we have to have words that are brilliant? Do we think that, if we don’t say just the right thing, the person will not be helped, or that she will lose her faith? Well, I know of one great saint who had no worries about his speech. The apostle Paul, though He was full of wisdom and very skilled in speech, did not think that this was an important qualification for encouraging others.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. ~1 Corinthians 2:1-2
What if you didn’t know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Would that be enough to encourage a struggling sister? What if you just sat beside her and told her how much Jesus loves her, and that He will always do what is right? What if you put your arms around her and told her that you love her with the love of Christ, and that you represent Him right at that moment, as you support and encourage her? What if you read to her from the Scriptures about God’s mercy, love, and grace, and shared with her how those things have manifested themselves in your life?
I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
What if you shared with her about the times that God’s presence comforted you in your hour of weakness and fear? What if you just honestly told her how afraid you sometimes are, and how God comforts and encourages you? Together, you might actually see the demonstration of His Spirit and power as you both testify to one another of your fear and His comfort. More often than not, when I go to comfort a sister who is struggling with pain, fear or worry, I am encouraged too. But in those times, it is definitely not my wisdom that encourages us, but God’s power manifested in our fellowship.
Then again, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all. Being quietly present was about the only thing that Job’s friends did right. In Job 2:11-13, they sat with him for seven days without speaking a word. They would have done well to continue that pattern! Years ago, my infant son was hospitalized and my husband was away on a deployment. I was terrified and very much alone. Several people came to see me. Some brought snacks, books, and flowers, and that was sweet. But the one I remember the most was a lady that I didn’t even know very well. She didn’t ask a lot of questions about my son’s illness, or even really inquire much about how I was doing. She simply sat with me quietly. I felt a great sense of peace as this new friend sat with me by my sick baby’s crib. No pressure to make small talk or discuss test results. Just a simple, quiet presence that meant I was not alone. Before she left, she prayed with me for my baby’s health and my strength, and I remember hoping that I could be such a comfort to someone one day.
Sometimes, the more we say, the less we encourage–especially when someone is suffering a terrible grief. Sometimes, there is no right thing to say. But that doesn’t mean that we should not be present. Our suffering sisters need to know that they are not alone in their trouble, grief, or pain. While they may know intellectually that the Spirit of Christ is with them, sometimes they need a human being to translate that Spirit to their hearts.
We are the hands and feet of Jesus to one another, that’s for sure, and we do need to provide for practical needs like meals, childcare, and cleaning. But besides hands and feet for doing, we also have hearts and souls for being. We can be near to our suffering sisters in their time of trial, and offer that quiet presence that makes no demands. We can listen if they want to talk, and encourage them just by hearing their heart. We can pray for and with them, and help them to remember where their true hope is, no matter what has befallen them in this life. This is bearing one another’s burdens. This is the love of Christ.