|How to Comfort a Sufferer
How to comfort a sufferer
What can we do for someone who has lost a loved one to death? John Mark Hicks lost his first wife to death, then years later his son died and his second wife divorced him. Here John Mark shares from his heart and his experience of grief what we can do for someone who is suffering.
1. Have a healthy sense of inadequacy. The worst and most offensive thing to a sufferer is for someone to come in and have all the answers.
2. Be there and be silent. From a sufferer’s point of view, the most important thing is not what you say but your presence. Be present and be God’s instrument of comfort.
3. Listen. It’s difficult to listen to a sufferer, and the tendency is to try and change the subject. Take a cue from the sufferer. If they lead you into remembering their loved one, go with their lead. If they talk about something more superficial, talk about the topic they choose. Be willing to listen to questioning doubt. Job’s friends were unwilling to hear Job’s questioning and tried to stop him. What we do represents God for them.
4. Be willing to experience pain with the sufferer. We may have enough problems in our own lives that we often don’t want to experience the pain and hear about the problems of others, but a sufferer needs someone to listen, feel with them. Proverbs 25:20
5. Express your love without interpretive statements. Don’t say, “It’s all for the best,” or “God plucked a rose from his garden.” Never try to interpret why a person died or what God’s intention was—this is not only arrogant but doesn’t help the sufferer. Say something that you feel, such as “I feel awful about this. This is terrible.” Never tell a sufferer how they should feel, but you can tell them how you feel, that is, how you hurt with them and how awful you feel about the circumstances.
6. Do something. Don’t say, “If there’s anything, anything I can do, call me.” Why not? Because this places on the sufferer the responsibility to do something, to figure out something for the person to do for them and make a call. This is a time when the sufferer doesn’t need more burdens. Have you ever really been called by someone who is suffering after you told them this? Most likely, you’ve been called rarely, if ever. The sufferer may not want to inconvenience someone nor decide who to inconvenience. Statements like, “Call me if there’s anything I can do” only extend the suffering rather than helping. What needs done? In some cases, everything needs to be done. Do something for the sufferer that you perceive they need. Mow their lawn, take them some food, help them clean their house, change the oil in their car. Show up and do.
Get these principles along with some theological perspectives from the John Mark Hicks book Anchors for the Soul: Trusting God in the Storms of Life (College Press), a one-hundred-page small group study book.