Practical Advice for Helping the Hurting

Over the past year or so, what are the most helpful things people have said or done for me? What have been the least helpful?

These questions came from a friend as we caught up on life. We have both been super busy with school, so we hadn’t been able to spend much time together. Talking over coffee was a much needed reprieve. It was nice to be able to talk about some things that have been particularly helpful, and some things that haven’t been. I’ve had similar conversations with others, so I thought it may be helpful to share my answers. Hopefully, when we experience others who are hurting, this advice will help all of us better minister to them.

Most Helpful:

  1. Telling me it sucks. Agreeing with me that my feelings are valid and important. Before anything else. I cried in front of a lot of people. I struggled with feeling weak and guilty about my emotions. I needed people to help me see that my emotions weren’t a weakness or an enemy. (Check out my post on emotions here).
  2. THEN, telling me truth about who God is. Not what He wants from me, or even how He’s going to use me. But who HE IS. At my worst moments, I had nothing to give, and no energy to do. I felt like I had absolutely nothing usable left in me. The truth of who God is did not depend on what I had to offer Him. God is complete whether or not I am. This brought me comfort more than anything else.
  3. Not letting me be alone too long. I needed some alone time, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want people around me all the time. But every single text that came unsolicited to encourage me aided in my healing. A Bible verse, a prayer, just a quick message that I was being thought about, a joke, a funny meme, something completely unrelated to anything I was experiencing — they all reminded me that I was not really alone, and that people loved me enough not to let me disappear.

Least Helpful: (Disclaimer, I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad. People don’t know what to say, or how to relate. I get that. My goal is to help us all relate better to others).

  1. Trying to compare the situation to something incredibly different. In trying to connect with my hurt, people would try to make connections to radically different situations with radically different emotions. I’m not putting down anyone’s experience or struggle. Really. But spending two weeks praying for a job a few years ago, and then getting a dream job, is not the same as praying for a husband to leave his mistress and return to his wife. A bad break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend after six months is not equivalent to a marriage ending. I was much more comfortable with someone telling me they couldn’t relate at all than someone making an unjustified comparison.
  2. Giving me other people’s timelines. This made me feel like something was wrong with me if I didn’t have the same timeline. Or, it completely terrified me. I was living moment by moment, day by day – the thought of something taking five or six years was unfathomable.
  3. Telling me how God would use this to help others. I’m not doubting that He can. Now, I pray that He does. As I struggled with God, though, one of my biggest fears was that while God did love me, He loved me slightly less than He loved other people. This fear began when my husband told me that God brought me into his life so that he could meet his true soul mate and be happy with her. I began to see myself as an instrument to get other people better lives, but at my expense. What I needed to know was that God doesn’t work that way. What I needed to know was that God was hurting with me, not letting me suffer because He wanted to spare someone else the pain. Eventually, I came to WANT my situation to help others. I had to get comfortable with God again, first, though.

There’s no magical formula for helping those who are hurting. Every situation is different, and each person responds to the circumstances differently. Looking back, I know I have naively tried to treat situations generically in the past. Hopefully, by reflecting on my own struggles and the way others ministered to me, we can learn how to more effectively reach others in their hard circumstances.

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