Hurting women are everywhere. Divorce is rampant, death is imminent and pain is unavoidable on earth. The church as a whole needs to understand the precious value and serious responsibility of ministering to hurting people and how to do that practically. I have blogged about what not to say to those who are suffering but I was recently encouraged to share some helpful things that can be said to hurting women. Throughout the years in my desire to help, I know I have said the wrong thing! Wanting to comfort but completely ignorant as to how, I know I have caused additional pain so I understand the need for helpful tips to effectively and practically encourage and comfort those hurting.
Understand that there will be instances when nothing you say will be helpful because pain and grief often make everything feel offensive and hurtful. In cases when you're trying your best and it seems like you're just sandpapering this woman's heart, know that she just can't see past the pain right now. Keep trying, keep loving, and keep praying for wisdom.
I am so sorry.
Empathy is vital. A heartfelt "I am so sorry" can go a long way in comforting a suffering woman. As human beings, when we hurt we want and need someone to validate that hurt. For me, when I have expressed any pain, it has comforted me when a brother or sister has responded with, "I am so sorry you are hurting. This has got to be so hard for you." The simple reminder that she is heard, that she is seen and that she is loved is a big thing and truthfully, it is a reflection of the God we serve who hears, sees, and loves also. Always envision yourself in their shoes and express sympathy and compassion.
I (we) won't let you walk alone.
When someone is hurting, isolation is the worst. Walking into a dark house is painful and scary. Climbing into an empty bed can completely undo you. Spotting couples in department stores, in the pew in front of you and in restaurants triggers a deep ache. Remind her that you aren't going to let her walk this path alone (whether she likes it or not!). Remind her you are going to hunker down in the ashes with her and hold her hand. We have lost the art of being able to sit in silence and just be there for another person. So let her weep and let her wail. Let her pray. Let her talk and vent and let her be quiet. Let the woman grieve and be there with her as she grieves because, more than anything, support and unconditional love are necessary.
How can I help?
When you ask this, understand she probably has no idea how you can help but she appreciates you asking. If she's like me, her first thought may be "Fix it. Make it go away." But we know you can't do that. She is likely too much in shock or too consumed with grief to even know what she needs. So listen to her stutter out an answer and then watch her. Learn her love language. Ask those close to her what she may need. Observe her and find a need you can meet whether it's something specific to say to her or something specific to do for her.
What do you find is the hardest for you right now?
This goes back to being seen and heard. She may say it's living alone. If so, reassure her that you've got her back and the Lord has not forsaken her. She may say it's taking care of the yard. If so, help her or give her the number of someone who can. She may say it's managing finances or juggling work and kid's schedules without her spouse. Ask specific questions (the more subtle, the better) and find a way to use your gifts (whether your gift is service or edification) to minister to her, even if all you can do is get on your knees and pray for strength and provision.
What comforts you the most right now?
Practical or spiritual, ask what she finds soothing. A special song? A pedicure? Company and/or a listening ear? A simple embrace? A specific Bible verse? If she says, "I don't know," share something that has comforted you. I have received songs, verses, books, cards, hugs, flowers and unexpected company at my door and have been ministered to so much by the resources many have given out of love. Comforting another member of the body is a beautiful thing that is, sadly, lacking in most churches. But I firmly believe if we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus called the Comforter, then we need to exhibit the fruit of the spirit and seek to help