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How Do I Help A Person Who Is Hurting?
Before I can help a person who is hurting, I need to understand the three steps below.
The first step is to know that:
All hurt is hurt
All pain is pain and
All fear is fear
whether they are real or imaginary or psychosomatic.
The second step is to listen and to be present to person on his terms and not on my terms.
The third step is to respond in love and hope for the person. For the answer to the question, How do I help the person who is hurting? is exactly the same as the answer to the question, How do I love?
It would be a comfort for the hurting one to pray to God. Why pray? If he prays and trusts that God is in-charge, it can give him hope and encouragement to bear with patience and courage in his suffering.
I have listed these steps as outlined in the three articles below by Philip Yancey in his book, Grace Notes---Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim, published in 2009.
1. Suffering for the Wrong Reasons---June 7
I have come to believe that the chief contribution Christians can make is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons. We can "honor" pain. In the most important sense, all pain is pain; it does not matter whether the pain comes from migraine headaches or strep throat or acute depression. The first step in helping a suffering person (or in accepting our own pain) is to acknowledge that pain is valid, and worthy of a sympathetic response. In this way, we can begin to ascribe meaning to pain.
At a different level, Christians apply a further set of values to suffering. Visitor to a hospital bedside can heap coals of fire on the suffering. We can add guilt: "Haven't you prayed? Have you no faith that God will heal you?" Or confusion: "Is Satan causing this pain? Just natural providence? Or has God specially selected you as an example to others?" Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt, I have learned. We all do things we shouldn't, and when pain strikes, it's easy to blame ourselves for what has happened.
In a context of intense suffering, even well-intended comments may produce a harmful effect. "God must have loved your daughter very much to take her home so soon," we may be tempted to say, leaving the bereaved parents to wish that God had loved their daughter less. "God won't give you a burden heavier than you can bear"; the suffering person may wish for weaker faith that might merit a lighter burden.
I have interviewed enough suffering people to know that the pain caused by this kind of bedside response can exceed the pain of the illness itself. One woman well known in Christian circles poignantly described the agony caused by TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). The pain dominates her entire life. Yet, she says, it hurts far worse when Christians write her with judgmental comments based on their pet formulas of why God allows suffering. Perhaps the chief contribution a Christian can make is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons.
Where Is God When it Hurts? (198-99)
2. Quiet Care---May 23
How do I help someone else in need? Specifically, what can I do to alleviate their fear? I have learned that simple availability is the most powerful force we can contribute to help calm the fears of others.
We rightly disparage Job's three friends for their insensitive response to his suffering. But read the account again: when they came, they sat in silence beside Job for seven days and seven nights before opening their mouths. As it turned out, those were the most eloquent moments they spent with him.
Instinctively, I shrink back from people who are in pain. Who can know whether they want to talk about their predicament or not? Do they want to be consoled, or cheered up? What good can my presence possibly do? My mind spins out these rationalizations and as a result I end up doing the worst thing possible: I stay away.
Tony Campolo tells the story of going to a funeral home to pay his respects to the family of an acquaintance. By mistake he ended up in the wrong parlor. It held the body of an elderly man, and his widow was the only mourner present. She seemed so lonely that Campolo decided to stay for the funeral. He even drove with her to the cemetery.
At the end of the grave-side service, as he and the woman were driving away, Campolo finally confessed that he had not known her husband. "I thought as much," said the widow. "I didn't recognize you. But it doesn't really matter." She squeezed his arm so hard it hurt. "You'll never, ever, know what this means to me.
No one offers the name of a philosopher when I ask the question, "Who helped you most?" Most often they answer by describing a quiet, unassuming person. Someone who was there whenever needed, who listened more than talked, who didn't keep glancing down at a watch, who hugged and touched, and cried. In short, someone who was available, and came on the sufferer's terms and not their own.
Where Is God When It Hurts? (176-77)
3. Ordinary Healers---August 14
Not even God attempted a rationale for suffering in his reply to Job. The great king David, the righteous man Job, and finally even the Son of God reacted to pain much the same as we do. They recoiled from it, thought it horrible, did their best to alleviate it, and finally cried out to God in despair because of it. Personally, I find it discouraging that we can come up with no final, satisfying answer for people in pain.
And yet viewed in another way that non-answer is surprisingly good news. When I have asked suffering people, "Who helped you?" not one person has mentioned a Ph.D. from Yale Divinity School or a famous philosopher. The kingdom of suffering is a democracy, and we all stand in it or alongside it with nothing but our naked humanity. All of us have the same capacity to help, and that is good news.
No one can package or bottle "the appropriate response to suffering." And words intended for everyone will almost always prove worthless for one individual person. If you go to the sufferers themselves and ask for helpful words, you may find discord. Some recall a friend who cheerily helped distract them from the illness, while others think such an approach insulting. Some want honest, straightforward confrontation; others find such discussion unbearably depressing.
Mainly, such a person needs love, for love instinctively detects what is needed. Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche movement, says it well: "Wounded people who have been broken by suffering and sickness ask for only one thing: a heart that loves and commits itself to them, a heart full of hope for them.
In fact, the answer to the question, "How do I help those who hurt?" is exactly the same as the answer to the question, "How do I love?" If you asked for a Bible passage to teach you how to help suffering people, I would point to 1 Corinthians 13 and its eloquent depiction of love. That is what a suffer person needs: love, and not knowledge and wisdom. As is so often his pattern, God uses very ordinary people to bring about healing.
Where Is God When It Hurts? (168)
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