What to Avoid When Helping in Difficult Times

The answer below is given by Nancy Guthrie:

What are some common errors we make when trying to help someone going through a difficult time?

On a practical level, we say, “Just call me if I can help.” The truth is, when you’re going through a family crisis or grief, you don’t really want to have to keep asking for help or organize all of the help you need. To have someone assume the responsibility for organizing meals and other practical help is a great gift. Even better is the person figures out what is needed and simply says, “I’m coming over Wednesday morning to do your laundry.”

Sometimes we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone who is hurting so we say nothing, adding to his or her hurt by ignoring it. Or we’re afraid that “bringing it up” will make the person sad, not realizing that our “bringing it up” actually allows that person to release some of the sadness they are already feeling.

On a spiritual level, I often hear Christian leaders or counselors say to the person who is grieving something like, “It’s okay to be angry with God. He can handle it.” I know they are trying to encourage authenticity before God and with other people, and that is worthwhile. But a church that is a safe place for sad people brings the truth to bear on the untruths and misunderstandings that serve as grounds for anger toward God rather than giving permission to hold on to or simply vent that anger.

Perhaps another mistake we make is assuming that people have grasped the sovereignty of God that has been preached from the pulpit. Often it is not until believers’ lives are shaken by circumstances or sorrow that they are finally ready to delve into deeper theological truths. As they are struggling to put together their understanding of a loving God with the God who allowed the accident or the illness, we have to be ready to talk through the implications of God’s sovereignty in very real terms. And usually it is not one conversation that settles this, but must be a series of conversations, giving time for these deep truths to settle in.

What is the uniqueness of a gospel-centered church in the way it ministers to people grieving a loss?

I don’t remember a lot of what my pastor said when we stood at my daughter’s graveside. But I remember him saying, “This is where we ask, ‘Is the gospel really true?’” And I remember whispering to myself in that moment, “Yes!”

While many of us are content to stay in the shallow end of the theological pool when things are going well, significant loss forces us into the deep end of the things of God, and that’s a good thing. This is where our understanding of God working out his plan to put an end to the brokenness of this world caused by sin moves from a religious discussion outside of us to become a gospel reality at work in us. We want to understand the bigger picture of God’s purposes in the world to make some sense of what has happened to us. The words we sing in worship have new meaning. Christ’s victory over death is more precious. Our future hope is more real. Gospel-rich teaching and preaching, counseling, and worship help to answer our questions and bring healing to our lives.

These words I found especially meaningful & helpful: I don’t remember a lot of what my pastor said when we stood at my daughter’s graveside. But I remember him saying, “This is where we ask, ‘Is the gospel really true?’” And I remember whispering to myself in that moment, “Yes!”

Read the whole thing here.

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About Eric

husband, father, pastor - all by the grace of God.
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