Ministering to Suffering People
It has been said that if you preach to suffering people, you will never lack for an audience.
Over the years, I have taught extensively on the topics of suffering and evil. I am happy to say that what I have taught in the past is true. Though my understanding of suffering has deepened of late, I still quote the same Scriptures and rely on the same truths.
When I was called on to minister to a person who found out they were going to die, or who had lost a loved one, I would try to be as compassionate as I could be. Having two close friends whose children have died, I felt I had come as close to that flame as one could without personally experiencing it.
But now, I realize I was not even close. I had no idea what it was like. I see it differently now.
Suffering is messy
Randy Alcorn, in his excellent new book If God Is Good, talked with Joni Eareckson Tada. Reflecting on 40 years in a wheelchair, she said to him, “I’ve learned that suffering is messier than I once thought.”
That is so true.
Sometimes, when people come with their “Gospel Guns” loaded for bear to “help us,” they actually instead hurt us instead. It’s not what they say that is necessarily wrong (though sometimes it is). More often, it’s in the way they say it. They’re just a bit too quick on the draw.
Time to get on with our lives?
Since our son went to heaven, I have spoken with many, many people who have also had loved ones die, especially children. What they have told me was, “Thank you for being honest about it all.” Many have told me that it gives them hope.
I never asked for, nor did I desire, a ministry to people who had lost loved ones, but I have it now. I will do what I can do, though it will never be enough.
One lady wrote me and told me that my book Hope for Hurting Hearts, written in the aftermath of my son’s death, “saved her life” (her words not mine). But really, I am just a fellow-sufferer on this road of pain, pointing you to the One who I depend on each and every day–Jesus Christ.
Here is what I would say to you who have lost a loved one or if you are ministering to someone who has had someone close to them die.
Do not say to them, “It’s time to get on with your life!” That is like salt in a wound.
If someone is not able to “get on with their lives” too quickly, as people think they should, they feel like they are spiritually deficient or weak.
Listen, you are simply human! Your depth of sorrow and loss is simply an indication of the depth of your love.
There is a place for deep sorrow
When David’s son Absalom died, David wept and said, “I wish it had been me instead of him!” (2 Samuel 18:33), even though Absalom was a wicked son in many ways. When Steven was stoned to death, “godly men wept over him” (Acts 8:2).
You cannot rush this process nor should you. As Scripture says, “There is a time to weep, and and a time to laugh. There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
These things take time and lots of it.
Weep more, speak less
Coming back to the way that I try to minister to someone who has lost a loved one, I still quote Scripture, but not quite in the same way. I say it with more tenderness, understanding, and compassion.
I don’t have to “muster that up” because I feel what they are feeling, in a way.
I listen more, and say less. Scripture reminds us, “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
I am not suggesting that you not try to minister in word to someone who is hurting, but try to show compassion. Don’t be flippant.
As Scripture says, “Weep with those weep” (Romans 12:15). Sometimes that is the most effective thing you can do.
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