When Hurting People Don't Need Words: Button Two
When Hurting People Don’t Need Words: Button Two
Last Friday I talked about how caring for a suffering person makes the discerning person aware of how their pain results in pain in us. Even as we want to lovingly minister to others, we are affected by their suffering and often don’t realize the urge to quickly talk is partly motivated by the urge to dispel the growing pain inside of us. And if were aren’t affected then that’s a different topic for a different series.
Getting the “first button” of loving hurting people right is realizing that before I can effectively care for my friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member I have to first learn to sit with the pain inside of me that comes from seeing and hearing their story. When Mary and Martha told Jesus their brother had died, he wept (John 11:35). He had come to town to raise his friend and their brother from the dead! And he assured the sisters good was coming. But he stopped and he wept. Their brother had just died. And he loved them and their brother. He allowed himself to experience both their grief and his own. When we stop and allow ourselves to experience others pain, sorrow or fear we are being like Christ.
Greg (not his real name) started coming to Redeemer Church a few years back and became involved in one of our weekly Community Groups. His winsome personality, caring heart and ability to connect with others made him a quick blessing to the group. As is common, that Wednesday night the group leader asked if there was anything for which the folks in the group needed prayer. While we welcome requests for prayer for a relative’s battle with illness or a wonderful time away on an upcoming vacation, the purpose of the groups is to provide real-time support, comfort and help for real-life situations. And Greg knew this.
He knew it would come up at some point. He had wrestled with “how long do I need to be a part of this group before I say it?” questions. It was risky. Yes, these people had demonstrated a desire to really care for another through last night’s marriage conflict, anxieties about whether this pregnancy would end in another miscarriage or the desperate need for a new job. But how would they respond to this??? Who knows why he chose that night.
“Guys, I just gotta finally be honest with you. I need prayer for my battles with same-sex attraction.”
The following Sunday Greg approached Benny and me to talk about the freedom and hope he was experiencing. When I asked why he said, “They just sat there.” He talked about how no one seemed shocked or repulsed. “Sheree, I’m not kidding, they just sat there. No one talked right away. But I could tell by the looks on their faces I wasn’t going to be lectured or shamed. And when someone did talk they just said, ‘Thank you so much for trusting us with this, Greg.’ And it was quiet for a minute or two again before they started communicating their love and praying for me."
Greg’s Community Group demonstrates the second “button” of loving sufferers: when words come, let them be few and affirming.
Think about a time in your life when you were hurting and wanted to talk to someone. What did you feel? Were you eager? Comfortable? Anxious? Ashamed? Did you worry about how the person would respond?
I have yet to meet someone who is entirely comfortable opening up their suffering to others.
- Jan wanted to talk about her hard week with chronic pain but is tired of feeling like “that person” who is always needing help and prayer.
- Dean has been struggling with anger toward his stepfather for being a selfish, neglectful husband to his mom, but he knows if he starts opening this up to a friend his words will be full of bitterness and fear.
- Angela’s battles with lust resulted in her viewing porn last night again. She desperately wants help with this on again/off again battle. But how in the world would her church friends respond? Porn is a man’s problem, not a woman’s!
One of the reasons suffering people are unwilling to share their pain and struggle with others is because they fear the reaction they will get. Maybe Jan, Dean or Angela shared past pain or sin with an individual or group and left thinking, “I won’t do that again.” Or perhaps they watched another person open up who was treated in an unhelpful way and thought, “How could I ever share about my rage or lust or weariness over being sick all the time with them after the lecture about ‘needing to trust that God is in control’ that woman just received?”
Whatever the reason, few of us experience suffering, sin or heartache and have absolutely no concerns about sharing it with others. Jan, Dean and Angela’s willingness to say, “Here’s what’s going on” requires risky courage, primarily if they’re just not sure how their friend or pastor or co-worker or small group will respond.
Think again about that time in your life when you were hurting and wanted to talk to someone. Did you? What happened?
I hope this happened. I hope you mustered the courage and humility to speak it out.
- “I’m tired of being sick and I’m mostly tired that I’m not getting better and I have to constantly feel weak and needy in this group.”
- “I’m so angry at my stepfather that I have hateful thoughts and even wish he would just die.”
- “I’m so ashamed of myself. I’m the only woman I know that struggles with porn. What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this???”
I hope whoever you said this to didn’t say anything right away. I hope they leaned forward in their chair or looked at you with compassionate eyes or reached to grab your hand as they paused to quickly notice how they were being impacted by your courage. Were they shocked? Afraid? Frustrated? Grieved? I hope they suspended whatever words came to mind to help them to consider what would most help you in that moment when you anxiously waited to see if your courage would melt into shame and regret.
And when they spoke I hope their words were few and affirming.
If not, I’m sorry. Too often in my younger years I, too, not only didn’t even know my words to the hurting person in front of me were first to make myself feel better. That my genuine desire to help wasn’t accomplished by rushed reminders of God’s sovereignty and love. And that what the pained person needed -- whose eyes just dropped as he or she awaited the longer-for assurance they had done the right thing by telling me -- was brief but beautiful silence that says, “Wow. This is big. I want to be careful about how I respond to you right now.”
God, please help us to learn how to incarnate a weeping Savior to the hurting around us.
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