We’ve all been through seasons of pain, heartache, crisis, and/or suffering. What we learn in those seasons can help us when we meet others who are also hurting. Here are some of the things I’ve learned, and I hope they’ll be helpful reminders as you reach out to those around you who are suffering.
Keep reminding the person of who they truly are – brave, loved, extraordinary, full of faith…the things that cannot be removed by pain or hardship...the truths about who God says they are. Suffering can engulf their world until it’s all they see. Help them remember who God sees when He looks at them.
Ask them if what you’re saying and doing is actually helpful for them. If it’s not, please apologize sincerely. Then ask them what you can do and say that would be helpful and encouraging for them. Humility and a servant heart go a long way in demonstrating how much you care.
Don’t take things personally or be easily offended. When people are in pain they aren’t their normal selves. Often they aren’t thinking clearly, and everything they experience is filtered through the pain, affecting their normal responses or actions. Give them the benefit of the doubt – they probably didn’t mean to say that, or didn’t realize the tone of voice that came out, or just didn’t realize it might come across as offensive.
Be patient, be kind, be gentle, be gracious. Always.
Don’t say you understand unless you really, truly do understand. If you don’t understand, then acknowledge it and affirm their courage and faith in a situation that you can’t imagine being in.
Try not to assume – that you know what they’re thinking, how they feel, or why they’re doing what they do. It could be they are reacting out of instinct, or they could be acting from a very long, deliberate thought process, or anywhere in between. Don’t make assumptions…except for assuming that they’re doing the best they can.
Listen to them. Let them share as much or as little as they need to. Say, “I hear you. I love you.” For them to feel heard and accepted no matter what is one of the best gifts you can give them.
Adjust your expectations. They most likely cannot do what they were doing before. They might not even be quite the same person they were when they weren’t suffering or in pain. Don’t make them feel like they have to measure up to the same expectations placed on them in “normal” circumstances.
Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for, and then offer it with an attitude of, “If this is helpful then please use it, and if it’s not helpful please disregard it.” No pressure, no stress, and no strong emotions attached to the advice. Respect the fact that they are ones living with the pain, and they have to make the best choices for them.
(As appropriate) Give them a hug, hold their hand, put your arm around their shoulders...use physical expressions to show you care, you’re there, and you support them no matter what.
Smile at them. Cry with them. Make them laugh, if you can.
Don’t give up on them. Sometimes suffering lasts longer than any of us can fathom. Sometimes it seems like the person is constantly in crisis, and we don’t understand why. But regardless of how long or why the suffering continues, the person needs to know God will never give up on them, and He will never stop loving them. We are His hands, feet and voice on this earth. Let’s not become weary in being expressions of His heart.
Grace, grace, grace. At some point, we all run out of grace. We are finite. But Jesus is infinite, and His grace is infinite. As long as He wants us to keep showing grace to that person, He will supply all the grace we need.
I hope this list is helpful. If you have anything to add, please share it with us in the comments!
It is a special privilege to be an expression of God’s love and grace to someone who is hurting. I'm so thankful for all the people who have been expressions of God's grace in my life! May we rely on His power, not our own, to continue being His hands, feet, and heart to those around us.