How Do We Help the Hurting?
October 1, 2002 - Loneliness, someone said, is the disease of our time. It seems as if the entire world goes on, and nobody cares. Loneliness lingers in the hospital bed and sits with the wife whose husband spends more time at work than at home. Loneliness strikes the divorced husband or wife and the children who are left behind. Loneliness isolates the aged and impersonalizes the poor. Cities are often the loneliest places in the world.
A Message by Billy Graham
David Jeremiah wrote, "What is loneliness? Some describe it in physical terms. It's an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach, almost to the point of nausea. It's an underlying anxiety, a big black pit. It's a sharp ache in moments of grief or separation. It's a long period of stress that wears you down until you're discouraged and defeated."(1)
Lonely people need someone to help them up, to encourage them, to support them, to let them know they're not alone. Who is our Helper, our Comforter, for the times when we need encouragement?
God is our Comforter: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."(2)
But that doesn't absolve us of our responsibility. God has given us a special assignment. We don't have to be trained counselors or ministers to be comforters. At some time we are all called to be comforters.
Are We Approachable?
Do those who are hurting feel free to tell us their problems, to cry on our shoulders, to ask for help? Or do we tell a joke or quote a Bible verse and change the subject?
If people feel safe disclosing their problems to us, most likely we are approachable, and confidentiality is the essence of being trusted.
Are We Available?
Needing conversation and comfort, a woman described her feelings of isolation: "When I lost my husband, people I had known for years pretended not to see me in the marketplace, or walked on the other side of the street if they saw me coming. I felt like a leper." When we don't know what to say, we may deliberately avoid someone. But it is an insensitive attitude toward those who hurt. Don't be afraid to approach those in pain. If they don't want to talk, they'll tell you—but they may want someone to listen. They may feel like the psalmist who cried, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted."(3)
Being available is difficult, because it takes time, but when people suffer, it's our concern and availability that count.
At the time that my wife's father died, her mother was incapacitated by a stroke, confined to a wheelchair and limited in her speech. Friends and neighbors dropped by to comfort her. Those who comforted the most, said the least. One day a group of students from the local college visited her. They gathered around her, they sat on the floor, they sang hymns. That was all.
Philip Yancey tells a story about Beethoven: "Because of his deafness, he found conversation difficult and humiliating. When he heard of the death of a friend's son, Beethoven hurried to the house, overcome with grief. He had no words of comfort to offer. But he saw a piano in the room. For the next half hour he played the piano, pouring out his emotions in the most eloquent way he could. When he finished playing, he left. The friend later remarked that no one else's visit had meant so much."(4) Being available is not a statement, it's an action.
Don't Add to the Hurt
Sometimes, instead of helping, we hurt others. Sometimes we hurt others inadvertently, and sometimes we do it deliberately. Some churches are accused of "shooting their wounded." This may happen when one spouse is blamed for the breakup of a marriage. Or parents are made to feel guilty if one of their children goes astray. Or people begin to question a businessman's honesty if he has to file bankruptcy. There are so many ways that we add to another's hurt. We shrivel from unkindness and flourish with kindness.
Another way in which we hurt others is through gossip. Even during prayer meetings, gossip may be transmitted as we pray. A motto that we need to remember is: "May the absent always feel safe with us."
We hurt others when we are critical. Criticism has a withering effect upon people, especially our children. They need guidance and correcting, but constant criticism can destroy their spirit and their desire to succeed.
In David's prayer for his son Solomon, he said, "Prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised."(5) What a great suggestion for parents! Pray continually and praise daily. Failure to do this can cause more damage than we are able to repair.
Another way we hurt people is by being too busy. Too busy to notice their needs. Too busy to send that note of comfort or encouragement or assurance of love. Too busy to listen when someone needs to talk. Too busy to care. I knew a pastor who had in his study this quotation by Socrates: "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life."
The Bible teaches us to be more concerned about the needs and feelings of others than our own. We are to encourage and build self-confidence in our loved ones, friends and associates. A true servant of God is someone who helps another succeed: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up."(6)
And, when we try to help others, a keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and outlast the unbearable.
Bear One Another's Burdens
When the Good Samaritan(7) found a man robbed and beaten, and left for dead, he didn't continue on his trip and "report the accident." He didn't call 911 and leave the scene, nor pay someone else to go back and care for the man. The Samaritan himself got involved.
He tended the man's wounds and then lifted his wounded body onto his own donkey and continued on the journey to Jericho. When he reached the city, he found a place to stay and took care of the patient. The next day he made arrangements to pay the innkeeper for any expenses that the patient would have.
That is what bearing one another's burdens is all about. It's so easy to give to a charity or a ministry and feel good about it. It's not so easy to provide personal charity. It's easier to give to someone overseas than it is to take a casserole next door.
May God give us the sensitivity to recognize the needs of those around us and lend a helping hand.
Pray for Those Who Hurt
A simple prayer, a Scripture that has meant something to you, these can be a great comfort to a hurting person. The Word of God is where we "find grace to help us in our time of need."(8)
Rather than giving personal advice, how much better would it be for Christians to share God's loving promises. It is a comfort to hear the words of God in times of stress. In Second Corinthians we read, "[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.... If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer."(9) The passage not only tells us we are comforted in our trials, but that our trials can equip us to comfort others. I am comforted by those words of the Apostle Paul, just as many others are.
Build Trust by Listening
A person does not need to hear something like "God must love you very much to put you through this." A person needs time to assimilate what has happened, to assess the physical or emotional damage.
We need to build trust through listening, through caring in a tangible way. Perhaps your friend doesn't know the Lord, and you feel awkward bringing up the subject of God as the One who comforts perfectly. If you cannot find examples in your life that might relate to a sufferer, the perfect example is Jesus. He experienced people who betrayed Him. He knows what it is like to suffer. You can explain how your hurting friend can have a relationship with Him. Pray for the right words, pray for the way to comfort.
Who Are the Best Comforters?
Those who have suffered most are often best able to comfort others. I know of pastors whose ministries have been enriched by suffering. Through their trials they have learned to live through the difficulties of people in their church family.
Someone who has experienced the same sort of pain is the one who can minister best. But don't say, "I know how you feel." You don't. No one knows exactly how another feels. Better to say, "I can't know how you feel, but this is how I was comforted." Our sufferings may be difficult to bear, but they teach us lessons that in turn equip and enable us to help others.
Only God's Spirit can truly mend a broken heart, but we can be a part of the healing process. To be a comforter we don't need to be a preacher or a psychiatrist. We just need to be available, as Christ is available to us.
When Jesus was comforting His disciples before He left them, they were confused, questioning and frightened. He said, "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy."(10)
Our attitude toward suffering should be to learn all we can from it so that we can fulfill a ministry of comfort: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."(11)
We are surrounded by hurting people. Are we approachable and available, even when we too may be hurting? God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
Are you lonely or hurting? Do you need someone to comfort you in your pain? Christ is the ultimate Comforter. If you want to have a relationship with Him, pray to Him. Put your trust in Jesus Christ and ask Him to be your Savior. Don't wait. Do it today. Then contact us, and you will receive information to help you.