Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”. ~ C.S. Lewis
Before listening, before doing anything or saying anything to the hurting person, we have the task of keeping our own attitudes in check.
We won’t always understand another person’s struggle. We won’t always agree with their choices. And we certainly aren’t called to be their fixers. If our approach to the hurting person is to fix them, we’re likely to do harm, however well intended. God heals. We’re just here to lighten the load.
A few things to try;
- Listen – Listen without assumption. Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before so that you really hear what’s being said, not what you expect to hear.
*Caveat – Not everyone wants to talk. And even if they do, you may not be the person they choose to share with. There’s a difference between being an attentive listener and going in with a crowbar.
- Touch – Sometimes a touch on the arm, holding a hand or a hug conveys caring in a way that words can’t.
*Caveat – Some people don’t like to be touched. It’s not up to you to decide that what they need is a good hug. If a person stiffens or pulls away from your touch, honor their physical space without disconnecting emotionally.
- Pray – If you have a shared faith, you may want to pray out loud with them.
*Caveat – If the individual doesn’t share your belief system, praying can be construed as preaching. Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.
- Act – Look for practical ways to lighten the load. Give a gift a certificate for a pizza, do yard work, run an errand etc…
*Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.
Above all, remember that it takes immense courage to be vulnerable. When someone trusts you enough to truly let you in, tread softly because you will, without a doubt, be leaving footprints.
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ~ C.S. Lewis
We’re often at a loss when it comes to coming along side someone who is hurting. In this post, and the next, I’ll share a few suggestions. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what comes naturally that doesn’t help before moving on to some ideas that might be more useful. Here’s a partial list of things not to do if we want to encourage a person who’s experiencing emotional or physical pain.
- Don’t view pain as a teaching moment.
Be sensitive and compassionate in your use of Bible verses and exhortations. We are very hard of hearing when we’re suffering. Leave the megaphone to God.
- NEVER say: I know how you feel
Of course you don’t. Each person’s pain is unique.
When you’re hurting, I have no idea how you’re feeling no matter how similar I may think our experiences are because I’m not you.
It’s tempting (and often preached) to try to understand how someone else is feeling by walking a mile in their shoes; putting yourself in their place etc… In other words, I should try to understand how you’re feeling by thinking about me. But I’m not you!
While we may have gone through similar situations, every other experience that has led you to this moment has shaped you into who you are and how you experience emotional or physical pain.
In our eagerness to show empathy, we often share our story, inadvertently changing the focus of the conversation from the other person to ourselves.
- Toss the cliché’s
Time heals all wounds. Time isn’t magical.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Blatantly untrue. What doesn’t kill you will change you but it may or may not make you stronger.
Other’s have it so much worse. Comparing pain is minimizing.
You need to be strong. Why? For whom? What does that even mean?
Take care of yourself. Don’t tell a hurting person what they need to do when they’re already doing all they can to hang on.
Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad. Completely irrelevant (and may or may not be true). This moment is about the hurting person, not someone else.
I’m sorry for your loss. This isn’t all bad, but the word loss is problematic and once again, minimizing. Try just I’m so sorry (leaving off the loss). It’s genuine and doesn’t sound like you picked it up on Law and Order.
In the next post I’ll share a few thoughts on ways to help and encourage someone who is hurting.
To even get near humility, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. ~ C.S. Lewis
Looking for a humble person? Look for their tell.
A tell is a repetitive behavior or mannerism or a part of our demeanor that sends out non-verbal clues about the nature of our thoughts or feelings. A tell reveals something hidden. Poker players specialize in learning to read and mislead with tells.
We all have tells. Funny, for the longest time, I wanted my tell to be humility but I couldn’t figure out how to send the signal. I thought of humility as something I could attain by landing midway between self-deprecating and self-promoting.
But humility isn’t a self hyphenated state. The humble person doesn’t think of himself as humble. As Lewis says, the humble person will not be thinking about himself at all.
I doubt if a humble person is often told they’re humble. They’re just thought of as someone who who seems to enjoy life so easily; a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
I’ve met only a few humble folks in my life. If they’re reading this, they have no idea I’m talking about them. And that is their tell.
The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’… If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground; the Bush is burning now. ~ C.S. Lewis
The old Looney Tunes character, Foghorn Leghorn, famously began, ended and infused his sentences with I say… I say… It’s funny, but that’s come to my mind recently as I’ve considered a peculiarity in my prayers. It happens more when I’m praying out loud, but it’s sometimes also there in the silent whispers of my heart.
Like Foghorn Leghorn’s repetitive I say… I say… I find myself repeating I pray… I pray…
I’m already praying, just like Foghorn Leghorn was already talking. So essentially I’m talking to God and continually interjecting: I pray for… I pray that…. It’s sounds less like the outpouring of my heart and more like I’m giving a speech. I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or wrong way to pray. I think God’s pleased whenever, however we do it.
But I’m wondering if there’s a more thoughtful way for me to pray. When I say Father, I pray… am I saying I’m asking or I’m begging or I’m pleading or I’m just chatting here? God knows my heart, but as a part of this journey in grace, I want to learn to know it, too.
I grew up in the church. I’m very comfortable with church-speak but I don’t think I’d use it with a burning Bush. I might fall on my face or I might argue like Moses, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the real me, aware of the real Thee in that moment.
It doesn’t take a theophany – a burning bush, a cloud by day and fire by night – for me to pray the prayer preceding all prayers – May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.
To better know my own heart, I’m working on tossing out my church-speak and paring my words down to their core. This is holy ground and I’m ready to pray like the Bush is burning!
How could we endure to live and let time pass as
if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back –
if we did not know that every day in life
fills the whole life with expectation and memory
and that these are that day. ~ C.S. Lewis
I once had a watch that lost 5 minutes a day. That’s not very much time really – only about 30 hours a year. But I had to keep resetting it or I’d lose track of time.
We are time travelers by nature. We talk often of the danger and damage of time travel if the voyage is a negative one. It’s costly to dwell in negative past: living in grief or guilt or resentment – rehashing and replaying what was or wasn’t.
And we warn each other of the perils of the dwelling in the negative future: the land of what if, of dread and worry and fear. We make a concentrated effort to maintain sea walls against those aspects of the past and the future.
I’ve been thinking about other types of time travel that distract from the gifts of the moment. Fine, fond memories that call to me, happy and exciting things yet to come, vie for my attention and my heart.
I can be having a delicious breakfast that I almost don’t taste because I’m off thinking about dinner. I can be looking at a beautiful sight without fully taking it in because I’m anticipating what’s around the next corner.
The past serves both as a reference point and a treasure. When I visit it that way, as a place of lessons learned or in sweet remembrance, it’s of rich value.
Pleasant anticipation of the future is a part of hope. It only becomes problematic when I stake my tent in the past or the future, regardless of the landscape. The trouble with time traveling is that I miss the moment I’m actually living in. It’s like my 5 minute a day watch. I lose time.
If I could add up all the hours spent in dread or anticipation and all the hours spent remembering with pleasure or with grief, I’m certain it would add up to much more than 30 hours a year.
The past and the future are fine places to visit, but poor places to live. Not only does the Father promise sufficient grace for this moment, but it is in this moment that He speaks. If I’m not here, I won’t hear.
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
I just returned from a vacation full of joy and pleasure and merriment. I listened to the haunting song of the humpback whale and was amazed to see puffins riding the waves next to the frolicking sea otters. I hiked in a mystical rain forest and watched a black bear catching salmon for his dinner. I listened to a great Indie/Folk singer strum an old Jo Dee Messina tune:
Been singin’ for my rent and singin’ for my supper
I’m above the below and below the upper
I’m stuck in the middle where money gets tight
But I guess I’m doin’ alright
I sang along (softly):
I’m all, I’m all, I’m alright
It’s a beautiful day not a cloud in sight so I guess I’m doin’ alright
o – oh, o – oh, I’m alright
Got a good old friend here with me tonight and I guess I’m doin’ alright
My heart was happy and I was, indeed, doin alright. Yet, in the midst of good friends and good times and good weather, I found, inside myself, a longing for home. That’s always the way it is with me. In spite of the many pleasant inns, I eventually long for the comfort of my own bed that’s just the right amount of soft, and my pillow that perfectly cradles my head. But beyond that, I long for my true home.
I want more than a vacation or an adrenalin rush or a temporary cure for the common life. I want the settled happiness and security of home. And one sweet day, I’ll have it.
The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space. On the other hand, a good many people in many different times and countries claim to have found God, or been found by God, here on earth.
Space travel really has nothing to do with the matter. To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere. Those who do not find Him on earth are unlikely to find Him in space. (Hang it all, we’re in space already; every year we go a huge circular tour in space.) But send a saint up in a spaceship and he’ll find God in space as he found God on earth. Much depends on the seeing eye. ~C.S Lewis
It’s quite true, isn’t it? We say we want to see Him.
If we can’t see God all around us, in our every day, there’s very little hope of finding Him in the heavens or in the church or in the words of a teacher or preacher or saint. We ask for more, for an epiphany, while He’s standing in front of us, sitting on the bench beside us, sharing in our quiet thoughts and abiding in our most secret places.
This isn’t Hide and Seek. He isn’t hiding.
It’s just Seek
There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, “You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.” In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.” For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. ~ C.S. Lewis
Forgive and forget.
How often have we been told that, taught that – heard it said, heard it sung? It seems that everyone says it, except God.
We’re told to forgive: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32) He doesn’t add, and forget it ever happened. There are so many things we have forgiven and forgotten. But there are some scars that remind us of things forgiven.
Remembering doesn’t mean not forgiving. Continuing to hold it against another does.
So often we struggle with forgiveness; either refusing to offer it or fearing we haven’t, because we can’t forget. We all know what it means to forget something. We do it all the time. Maybe the problem lies in knowing what it means to forgive something. Lewis Smedes says:
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.
God holds only Himself to the high standard of forgetfulness. For I will be merciful regarding their wrong deeds, and I will never again remember their sins. (Hebrews 8:12). He doesn’t tell us to forgive and forget. We added that ourselves. For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again.
God doesn’t tell us to forgive and forget. He tells us to forgive and forgive.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. ~C.S. Lewis
To be honest, if God asked, most of my life I’d have been content to be made into a decent little cottage. I was willing to see what I showed. From all appearances, it seemed to be a neat and tidy place with a leak or two and a few cracks in the plaster. But He saw the neglect; the rot and the decay I continued to putty and paint over.
He walked among the shards of promises unmet and unkept. He stepped into the wreckage of my self-worth and neglected gifts and piece by piece began the work of rebuilding. He didn’t bring in a bulldozer. That would have been my vote. Instead He took upon Himself the tedious task of restoration.
There have been times when I thought the pain was too heavy for these weak walls, but in those moments, God always added a support beam. Board by board and brick by brick, He’s rebuilding His dwelling, true to the original schematics.
The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God. ~ C.S. Lewis
It’s Easter Eve. I found a love letter that I thought you might enjoy.
Just for you
I suffered and died.
And one day
I will take all of your
pain and sorrow away,
and wipe every tear
from your eyes.
All I ask in return
is that you Love Me
and Trust Me.
For years I lived my life in despair.
For years I felt abandoned by God.
Because of my addictions and failures.
But then I cried unto the Lord
and He heard my prayer.
He set my feet upon a rock.
He put a new song in my heart.
He made known unto me
the joy of His salvation.
~ Ron Pdvoisky
The poem, in its entirety, is overlaid here on a video of the Tommy Coomes Band’s Come Just As You Are.
If there ever was a day to remember that Jesus loves us unconditionally, Easter is surely it.
None of the great deeds we do, not in a lifetime, can add to that love. And not a thing we’ve done, not in this lifetime, can make Him love us less.
He just wants us to come to Him. That’s why He came in the first place. The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.