I had the privilege, early this week, of sitting with a group of people who are all walking through some really difficult things. There was a real sense of burden in the group that night: they were as lovely as ever, but as we chatted I began to see some of the weight that each of them were carrying.
One girl in particular caught my heart. The more we chatted, the more hurt and pain started to come out of her: the ways that she felt about herself, the ways that she saw people feeling about her; the injustices that she saw in the world and the ways that she had been hurt. She had a lot to feel that twist of pain in her chest about; it became so clear that she had been carrying so much for so long, and that this wasn’t the kind of pain that a quick chat and a bit of encouragement was going to help her move on from.
“People think they have the answers, that it’s that easy,” she said. “They say things like, “but God is good!” and “I’m sure it’s all going to be OK in the end,” but I don’t know how that is supposed to help. God is good, but this is not OK, and that’s just their way of fobbing me off onto someone else”.
She had a point. How often do we breeze over the pain in peoples’ voice, in an attempt to encourage or to bring hope? How often do we use those words – “it’s going to be OK” – instead of sitting with a person and acknowledging that pain that they’re feeling in their heart?
Because that’s what Jesus does. He isn’t afraid of our pain and our hurt. He doesn’t shush us or try these surface-level encouragements to try and make us cheer up. He sits with us when we lament; He hears us, He cries with us, He comforts us. And if we’re going to show the love of Jesus to people, we need to show them something of that part of His character.
The conclusion we came to, as we debriefed on people’s weeks, was that there isn’t an easy answer. There’s no way to click my fingers and make it all better for them. But the truth still stands: that in that pain and hurt, in all of the trials and the challenges, God is good; He is faithful, and He never lets us go.
He is the God who says come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). He is the God who wants us to come to Him when we are burdened, when we are tired, when we are carrying heavy loads, when we don’t think we can carry on for much longer. He is the God who isn’t afraid to sit with us in that place; He doesn’t need us to be OK before we enter His presence.
Don’t tell me that it’s all going to be okay, that girl said with tears in her eyes. Don’t just tell me that God is good – I know that that is true, but this is still so painful. She’s right – those definitely aren’t the words that she needed in that moment. In fact, she needed what we all needed: we worshipped, and we prayed, and we cried, and we shared, and we laughed. We got in His presence and let Him work. In that moment, that was all there was that we could do.
So how do we help, in that moment? How do we stand with those that are hurting without patronizing them or telling them that we are too busy for their pain?
1. Most of the time, they don’t need an answer – they just need you to listen.
Sometimes the hardest part of sitting in pain like that, is this awareness that they are not seen, or heard, or noticed. Everybody else is going about their lives as if nothing is wrong. Nobody takes a moment to look at them – really look at them – and see those things that are going on for them.
So listen. It takes no expertise or experience; you don’t need the skills of a social worker and you definitely don’t need to have all the answers. You only need to have the ability to put the kettle on, to sit down with them and to see them with Holy Spirit eyes; they don’t need you to sort it all out for them, they only need to be heard.
2. We can remind them that they are known and loved, in a time when they might feel the opposite.
These are the simple truths that we all need speaking into our heart every now and then. It’s the real, honest truth: that God has not caused these painful things that are going on for us, but that He knows everything about it. He knows our hearts, He has loved us since He knit us together in the womb. In this moment, they are known, and they are loved.
3. We can show them that they are not alone.
Seasons like that can have the power to make you feel totally alone: unlovable, unheard, like everybody has moved on with their life but you. It’s amazing how much courage can come when we know that there is someone standing next to us, holding our hand.
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened – all who are hurt, all who are broken, all who are sad, all who have walked away – come to me, and I will give you rest.