| from Lauren Roman |
What’s your first response when a friend or loved one is hurting? Often, our natural instinct is to focus on fixing the problem, rather than simply helping the person.
Helping and fixing are not synonymous. Offering love and support is not the same as offering knowledge and solutions. Helping begins with listening.
Start by communicating that you genuinely care and you’re really listening. Choose words that are relational, rather than situational – that could largely determine the response you get! For example, let’s compare:
1. “What’s wrong?”
2. “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”
Option #1 is situational, problem-focused, and starts with an assumption. We shouldn’t be surprised when a well-intentioned parent asks their sullen teenager “What’s wrong?” and gets an emphatic “Nothing!” in response.
This illustrates one of Dr. Kathy’s tips for good family communication: don’t interrogate your kids! Questions asked out of genuine care and concern may feel pushy or invasive on the receiving end… especially when a parent or authority figure is the one asking.
In contrast, Option #2 is open-ended, inviting rather than questioning, offering rather than imposing. That’s a great start, but don’t be phased if someone who’s hurting doesn’t take you up on the offer right away!
When a loved one is really struggling, any attempt to “open up” can be a major battle. If they don’t understand their own emotions, how could you? If they think their emotions are disproportionate or unjustified, surely you will too. If they wish they could get away from themselves or their situation right now, why would you want to get closer? Why would you intentionally step into such a mess?
They don’t want to burden you with their problems… or, even worse, be a burden! So you may have to repeat your efforts to let them know you truly care, you’re willing to listen, and doing so is a blessing, not a burden! When someone trusts you with their pain, that is sacred ground. I think it’s one of the highest levels of trust there is – and it comes with an incredible privilege.
In Galatians 6:2, Paul gives us this instruction: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (NIV)
In Romans 12:15, he really boils it down: “Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].” (AMP)
That’s the essence of empathy – not feeling sorry for someone, or trying to get them out of the storm, but instead entering into their struggle – understanding and sharing their feelings. Helping continues with empathy.
In many cases, empathizing with someone who’s hurting is the best help we can offer – second only to praying for them!
So, when they’re ready to talk, put your phone away, give them your full attention, and really listen. Try to put yourself in their position, understanding (as best you can!) what they’re thinking and feeling. Offer to pray with them and/or let them know you’ll be praying for them – and actually pray.
Let them know your support isn’t a one-time offer, it’s ongoing and available as needed. If they ask for advice, pray again for wisdom! Look to God’s Word and see what you can glean that may apply.
But beware of cookie-cutter biblical platitudes! James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds” is certainly true… but today may not be the day they need to hear that verse. And when you go to the Bible, be sure to get the context and full meaning!
James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
The trial itself isn’t the joy. The result of the trial – perseverance, maturity, completeness in Christ – that’s the joy.
Whatever trial your loved one is facing will be difficult, even painful. But you can make it just a little more bearable by listening, empathizing, weeping, rejoicing, praying… and, above all, loving.
Loving is helping.
Lauren Roman is an enthusiastic encourager, creative communicator and truth teller who captivates audiences of all kinds. Her eclectic career began as an actress in her teens (ABC’s “All My Children”) and now encompasses speaking, singing and writing – all to inspire others toward true identity and counter-cultural freedom in Christ. As Lauren shares from her own life with bold transparency, emotion, humor and humility, interweaving practical biblical insights, hearts are engaged and stirred to change.
In addition to her work as an Associate Writer and Speaker for Celebrate Kids, Lauren keynotes live and virtual events for women, youth and pro-life ministries throughout the US and beyond. For more information, visit: laurenroman.com