How to Help When Others Are Hurting (Part 1)

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,
put on a heart of compassion…”

Colossians 3:12

Pain—it’s one experience that we as human beings hold in common. It may arrive in various forms and remain for differing lengths of time, yet still, none of us will escape this life untouched by the sorrow that runs deeply on our sin-cursed planet.

Although we’re all familiar with pain, we seem for the most part to be strangely ill-equipped to help when suffering strikes the people we know. What do we say? How do we say it? Should we say anything at all? We can sometimes feel frozen with uncertainty about how or when to respond.

Unfortunately, you will rarely meet a person in pain whose suffering hasn’t been compounded by inappropriate comments made by people who were likely well-intentioned, but were also poorly prepared to provide comfort in moments of need. The good news is that even though we will all make mistakes in this area, by God’s grace we can each become better equipped to communicate love and encouragement to others in times when they need it most.

The following are some Dos and Don’ts on helping those who are hurting… 

Do pray for compassion.

Each of us enters this world hard-wired to focus solely on three things—me, myself, and I. Selfishness presents one of the greatest barriers to helping those in need, since we must first notice that others actually have needs before we can begin to offer assistance! We need to pray regularly that God would break down our sinfully selfish natures and give us hearts like Christ’s that will be moved with compassion for the hurting people that we meet (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Do try to put yourself in their shoes.

The Scripture commands us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), but tears won’t come easily when we allow ourselves to remain emotionally detached from the hurts others experience. If we don’t take time to really think about what someone else is going through and try to imagine what he or she may be feeling, we’re likely to be terrible counselors, spouting off comments that totally miss the mark and cause more harm than good.

In contrast, Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, came to earth and experienced human pain firsthand so that He would be able to fully “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). He put Himself in our shoes; we must follow His example by trying to do the same for those in need around us.

Don’t assume you know the reason for their pain.

Another mistake that we as Christians can make is to approach another person’s problems like a detective rather than as a compassionate friend. Cause and effect makes us comfortable, so we may wrongly busy ourselves with attempting to discern the reason behind the suffering instead of focusing our efforts on trying to alleviate the suffering.

Job’s “friends” serve as the perfect example of this misguided handling of another person’s pain. As you may remember, those three yahoos appeared to be full of wisdom…until they started talking. When they opened their mouths, they illustrated the truth of Proverbs 17:28 by revealing the foolishness which their silence had previously kept hidden. These men had no earthly idea why calamity had come knocking at Job’s door, and their arrogant and insensitive attempts to explain the unexplainable only increased Job’s misery and evoked God’s righteous anger (Job 42:7).

In this broken world, we would do well to remember that it’s not only rain that visits the just and the unjust, but tornadoes, earthquakes, and famine as well. People don’t expect us to explain their pain; they just need us to love them through it.

More on this topic tomorrow…

Photo: andyreis