Can you imagine what it would be like to be at your lowest moment and have someone safe enough to share your deepest hurts, doubts, and fears and have them listen carefully to hear your heart and hold your emotions soothingly and safely without the need to minimize your pain, fix your thinking, or even rush you through the struggle? They are simply fully present with you, sharing your pain, and occasionally offer a question or observation that will help magnify Jesus’s presence with you.
I don’t have to imagine. I’ve been fortunate to have people attuned to God’s heart and available to mine throughout my life. It is the rarest of gifts, to be sure, and a significant component in my life-long passion for knowing Jesus and walking with him. Father wants people like that covering the planet.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about not burying our emotional pain but waiting until Jesus carves a way through it for us and how a friend can be helpful. When you learn to embrace God from inside your pain, you’ll be better equipped to hold others inside of theirs. I’ll admit it’s not easy to do; our pain-detection and avoidance systems kick in with hardly a thought whenever we or someone near us chokes up with tears. “Danger! Danger! Must stop tears!”
Almost everyone tries to stop them by apologizing or switching the subject as if tearing up is supposed to be embarrassing. How tragic! Uncontrolled tears are almost always evidence of where God’s Spirit is working in our hearts. It shows us the most sacred space where grief and pain dwell, and Father is working to win us into trust. If we run from our tears, we may well miss him, and avoiding the tears of others will leave them in the dark as well.
Most of us have always been better at “rejoicing with those who rejoice” rather than sincerely “weeping with those who weep.” We’re called to do both,
But once our pain avoidance system kicks in, we say the silliest things to people that deepen their pain rather than hold their hearts—
- “Just trust Jesus; he will take care of it.”
- “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
- “But they are in a better place, aren’t they?”
- “Cheer up! Jesus already has the victory.”
- “Just forgive, and it won’t bother you anymore.”
- “Are you still struggling with that? It happened so long ago?”
While some of those things may be true, presented in the context of raw pain, they will make people feel dismissed and more alone than ever. I don’t think our pain-avoidance systems are mean-spirited; they result from some specific weaknesses in our approach to pain. First, most people barely survive their own challenges and do not have the resources to carry someone else’s. Second, those in pain make us uncomfortable because they expose our doubts and questions about God’s love for us. Finally, Christianity today is geared toward procuring victory and blessings more than it is about how the glory of God is revealed in brokenness and sorrow.
Most people comfort someone briefly and tie it off with a quick Scripture or a pat answer, often concluding with the ubiquitous, “I’ll be praying for you.” And then they forget. That’s why people in pain often feel like a burden to their friends and end up isolating themselves as they are drawn more deeply into crisis. At least when Job’s friends heard about all his troubles, they came and wept with him in the dust for seven days before any of them said a word. What an amazing gift of presence! But then, they couldn’t keep silent anymore and piled on their false theology that only added to Job’s crisis.
Becoming a safe place for people in pain is a work of the Spirit through the troubles and hurts of your own life. You learn compassion when you are the victim of other people’s meanness. You learn authenticity by being gaslit and ghosted by people you care about. And you learn how to be present for others by what you wanted most when you suffered. Ninety percent of ministry is simply being there with A Caring Heart and a Listening Ear, as my friend Joni from Edmund termed it in a podcast we did recently.
You don’t have to start a ministry, hang out a shingle, or run an ad on Next Door. Just be aware of the people around you during your day. When you see someone hurting, let Jesus lead you on how to make yourself available. It can be as simple as “You look like you could use a friend.” Or, “If you ever need someone to talk to, please let me know,” You might invite them to lunch or over for coffee. You’re inviting them as you make your heart available, not imposing yourself on them. Be gentle, aware, and gracious, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share his love in the world.
And don’t worry about having all the answers they might need. You’re better off holding people’s pain when you don’t have the answers and not trying to fix them. You only need to provide space where God can reveal himself and draw them into his light and freedom.
Coming alongside a broken heart or an oppressed spirit is as close to the Gospel as it gets. He came to bind up the brokenhearted and free the oppressed. You’re closest to the kingdom when you’re with people like that.
I’m sorry we’ve not had another trauma conversation recently or the next meeting of the Jake Colsen Book Club. We are a bit buried in the process of refurbishing and moving into our next home, taking some time to be with friends, and our schedule is not too predictable these days. We will get back to those in a few weeks and let you know here when we start those up again. We appreciate your patience during this season of nesting in a new place where we can share our love with each other and with all of you.