I just got off the phone with an Army wife whose husband is still deployed in Afghanistan. Mine has been back for five weeks now, and things are just starting to feel normal. But for this woman, life is anything but. She goes to bed wondering if she’ll get to talk to her husband tomorrow—or ever again. She wakes up hoping that she won’t get sick so that someone can take care of her daughter. She’s exhausted by staying up late to do the bills and clean the house before her alarm reminds her she also has to get to her own job each day.
Maybe there are people in your church like this woman. Someone who is going through a long period of suffering. A new widow, a parent who’s lost a child, maybe even a new parent who’s struggling with months of colic. Or a child who’s lost a beloved parent. After the initial round of meals, how do you help?
I can only speak from my experience, but it was a pretty powerful lesson that God blessed me with, and one I’ll never forget. Here are five ideas for helping those who are hurting that I think really work.
1. Ask how they are, and really listen.
In our culture, when we say, “How are you?” we don’t really want the long, drawn-out sob story, right? So don’t use that question when you are desiring to get at how someone is really feeling. Instead, try what one woman asked me: “What is one thing that is going well that’s surprised you? And what is one thing that’s hard that’s surprised you?” She challenged me to find the joy in my life despite my hard circumstances and she uncovered the burdens on my heart.
2. Find needs and fill them.
Great questions like the ones above provide you with plenty of fodder for things that you can do. I answered that woman that I really needed a teenager to watch my newborn son for a few hours so that I could run an errand or get some work done every now and then and she volunteered her teenage daughter. Get creative. Tell someone you’re coming over to clean his or her kitchen, and ask when a good time is to do that. Go to the grocery store and ask what you can pick up. Buy a book you think this person might like and send it with a nice card in the mail. And don’t forget the ministry of presence. Bring over lunch and stay for an hour—it might be the difference between a good day and a bad one. More than fulfilling actual needs, doing something loving is a tangible way for someone to see that he or she is not alone.
3. Pray and encourage them.
When you tell somebody that you’re going to pray, make sure to pray for this person on the spot or when you get to your car so that you follow through. (Follow through could be the sixth way of loving someone who’s hurting. If you make promises, keep them to the best of your ability.) And then call or write a note later and remind them that you are still praying. Better yet, find a verse to share, or pray with this person on the phone or over coffee.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” —1 Thessalonians 5:11
4. Guard your heart against the evil one. And forgive yourself when you fail.
After learning the hard way what it is to suffer, you would think I’d be the first to help others who are suffering. But my heart is just as sinful as yours. When I saw someone hurting recently and thought of a way to help, I also thought of about 10 ways I could get out of helping. Guard yourself against Satan’s lies that say that someone is doing just fine when you know otherwise. Don’t listen to him when he says that you’re too busy to help. And make sure to forgive yourself when you fail to love someone as you ought or want to. We can point people to Jesus but we can’t be Jesus. And in that knowledge, we remain poor and needy, too.
Help others again and again. Learn from your mistakes. Grow. Don’t worry when you tried to help but it didn’t work like you wanted it to. Sin boldy in your desire to help.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” —Colossians 3:23
Lindsey M. Roberts is the editor of the All About Jesus blog. She spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything—cleaning the kitchen three times a day, delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket, describing the flavor profiles of different coffees—is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and son in Virginia.