Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

allsuffertogether

As I write this, we are all grieving the loss of life brought about by recent tornadoes.

In only a few days or weeks, there will likely be yet another heart-wrenching headline.

Our broken world, our temporary home, is full of tragedy.

We need only glance up from our busy lives for a second to spot someone who is hurting profoundly.

When we are relationally close to the one hurting, we most often find ourselves plunged into the valley along with them.

We may not know exactly what to do or say, but we are forced to face the pain head-on — acknowledge the situation and fumble our way along, trying to be the best friend we possibly can.

But what about the times we’re peripheral to the sorrow?

When we’re acquainted with the hurting individual,

but are unsure how involved they want us to be in their pain?

Or when their sad story is all we know of them so far?

Do we speak of it?

Or do we allow the “white elephant in the room” to swallow any words of encouragement… any words at all?

broken window

I’ve asked six friends to share more of their thoughts with us (as a sequel to “Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know).

Their journeys through pain allowed them to experience both the awkwardness and the blessings of suffering in their respective communities.

From them we’ve already gained insights for our inner-circle.

So, what would they say to us as we relate to the hurting in our extended community?

1. Acknowledge the issue.

Even in our pain, we know how uncomfortable the situation is. If we were in your position, we’d be at a loss for words as well.

But even more awkward than saying something is saying nothing.

“I’m so sorry” is music to our ears.

You don’t have to address the issue every time you see us, but the use of this simple phrase in one of our early interactions will put us at ease in your presence in the days ahead.

We don’t expect eloquence or profundity… just a sincere word of kindness.

2. Reach out in some small way.

Practical help will almost never fail to bless us: food, a gift card, or free childcare go a long way.

Notes of encouragement, the words “I’m praying for you,” a hug, or comforting Scriptures impact us more than you can imagine.

We see that you care when you offer to help, take us to coffee, or listen.

    Even if we do not take you up on your offer,

we will always value your gesture.

3. Think carefully before you speak to us or about us.

Be gentle, patient, kind, considerate.

Put yourself in our shoes.

Consider our privacy as you speak to others or use social media.

Be mindful of what we’ve gone through — don’t ask us to deliver a meal to a new mother if we’ve just lost a baby; don’t invite us to a watch a romantic comedy if we’ve just separated from a spouse.

A few moments of careful thought can spare us all a lot of discomfort.

4. Pray for us.

James516

Prayer extends hope like nothing else.

When you sincerely, fervently intercede on our behalf, our trembling faith grows.

As we suffer, we can’t help but wonder if God still sees and cares; but when we know another is also on their knees, we are strengthened.

We are reminded that “…the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

A final thought…

As I spoke with these women, they (and I) were surprised at the details they remembered;

both the agonizing awkwardness of people who never said a word regarding the darkness they were in — who thought it was “none of their business”…

and then in contrast, the life-giving support of those who promised to pray or offered “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).

As ill-equipped or uneasy as we may feel, we are each capable of blessing the hurting person along our path today.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to move us out of our comfort zone for moment, there’s no telling how He may choose to bless someone through us.

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Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

TwoAreBetterThanOne

I’ve experienced both.
There was a season of fear, confusion, hurt, and danger. My friends were out of reach, and I felt parched.

Years later, in the midst of new trials, friends were there, pouring life into my thirsty spirit. They were the hands and feet of Christ, bringing healing and sanity.

The apostle Paul has been there too:
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7a).

Because our world is so horribly broken, we have all heard pain in a friend’s voice:

“He’s leaving me.”

“It’s cancer.”

“I lost the baby.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s an addiction.”

What do we say when our friend’s world is crumbling?

When we can’t fathom their pain?

It’s hard to enter in. We feel inadequate. The awkwardness immobilizes us.

But, we are the Body of Christ. Our friends need us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve walked through a few shadowy valleys, but some of my friends have been in places I can only imagine.

As I dialogued with six women about their seasons of darkness,

I gleaned eight insights on “friendship in the valley” from their comments.

Here’s what they want you to know…

1) Your emotional involvement makes all the difference.
We need a good listener more than anything. We know you have many other important things to do, but when you put them on hold to hear us out, we notice and are deeply grateful.

We are touched by the tears you shed with us; the way you feel and live the pain along with us.

We appreciate your sensitivity to what we need at a particular moment — your prayer for wisdom before you open your mouth to speak.

We want to talk about our troubles with you, but we also want you to feel free to talk about other things.

While judgmental and self-righteous words kill our spirits, we do welcome loving biblical counsel.

ComfortOneAnother

2) We will never forget the ways you help us.
Years after our crisis, we will remember that you helped us pack our bags, that you cleaned our house, that you cared for our kids, that you put away the baby clothes, that you helped us get out of bed.

We may resist your efforts to help at first, but we need you to be persistent.

3) Comparisons usually aren’t helpful.
It can be good for us to remember that we are not the only ones in the world suffering, but please be careful of unequal comparisons. A spouse who is perpetually sloppy is not the same thing as a spouse who is morally unfaithful. A child with the stomach flu is not on the same level as a child suffering the effects of chemo. Think twice before saying, “I know how you feel.”

4) We appreciate confidentiality.
We understand that you need the freedom to talk openly with your spouse, but beyond that, we hope you understand that our stories are private. If you want to share details with others, please check with us first. We need to be able to trust you.

5) We desperately need your prayers.
We want to be told that you’re praying for us, and we need that to be true. In our darkest moments, we long to know that someone is lifting us up before Heaven’s throne.

6) We are not “normal” right now.
We are grateful for “no-strings-attached” friendship. We’re not in a position to reciprocate every thoughtful thing you do for us. You may wonder why we forget to return calls, send thank you notes, or ask questions about your life. Sometimes we just can’t think straight and are in dire need of patience and grace.

7) It can be hard to ask for help.
Most of the time, we feel awkward asking you to give even more of yourself. We realize you have your own life and can’t always be there, but we appreciate every offer of help — each time you reach out.

8) We are learning that our hope is in the Lord.
As much as we love and appreciate you, we have to learn that you cannot be God. You have limitations.  At times, we may lean heavily on you, but we both need to learn that you can’t meet our every need. We are in the process of learning that His grace is sufficient.

Comfort

For another fascinating perspective on the healing that community brings, check out Mary DeMuth’s recent blog:
CommunityHealsStress

***Is there anything you would add to this list of insights? What have your friends done that have held you up during your stormy season? Please leave a comment below.

How can we help our hurting friends?

Prov17-17

We all know someone who is going through a hard time.

What are we going to do about it?

The answer probably depends on how well we know the person:

  • Close friends — We consider peering into the darkness with them.
  • Casual friends — We might pray for them, but decide someone else is better equipped to encourage them.
  • Acquaintances — We aren’t sure if they know that we know their troubles, so we try to ignore the “elephant” in the room.

Of course, those are generalizations, but we’ve got to admit we don’t always know how to relate to people who are struggling with serious, heavy issues.

Unfortunately, there really are a few wrong ways to relate to them. Ask Job about his friends.

In my next few blogs, I’ll share comments from my friends who have been in some deep, dark valleys. We’ll look at God’s Word as well as their experiences with friends to gain wisdom in our relationships.

As we talk about those closest to us, our casual friends, and even the people-from-church-that-we’ve-only-ever-said-hello-to, it’s my prayer that we’ll all be better equipped to bless and encourage all three categories of hurting friends.

In what ways have your friends blessed you during hard times? Leave a comment below — I’d love more input for the upcoming blogs!

If you liked this post, you may be interested in Do You Need A Listening Ear?, What You Need to Know About Trauma, and When You’re Hurting.

How to change your mind — literally

Phil.4-8

Want a cheery verse to start your morning?

How about “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat…” (Luke 22:31)?

Those inspirational words rang in my head as I opened my eyes just the other day.

God, should I be worried? What’s going to happen? 

Of course I hoped it was completely random… like waking up with “The Song that Never Ends” in your head.

But within a few seconds, I allowed fear’s seed to take root. My imagination was in gear.

As I drove away from home a couple hours later, I received a text about a lockdown on our school campus (which includes our house). I realized too late that I’d left our front door unlocked.

This might be it, I thought as I drove away. I might come home to face a criminal (I didn’t).
Or worse yet, our school might be under attack (It wasn’t, thank God).

Later that afternoon I left three kids home alone (in our cozy neighborhood consisting of ten other Christian families) to pick Jaden up from school.

I’d better kiss them all goodbye. Who knows what might happen to me or them once I leave this house? (Nothing did.)

My paranoia eased a little over the next couple days, but I’d entertained thoughts of disaster long enough that it refused to make a permanent exit. Any songs on the radio or verses in my head about trials made me uneasy. It took a little longer to fall asleep. Since I didn’t want to be caught by surprise, I had to imagine all the possibilities… turns out there are a lot of possibilities.

And so I entertained my old friends:

  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Anxiety

Toxic Thoughts.

Could this be what God wanted for me with the thought of Luke 22:31?

I suppose the Lord very well could choose to warn me of trials to come, but even if He does, am I doomed to anxious thoughts that rob me of peace and joy?

Back when I was recovering from adrenal fatigue and symptoms of PTSD, I had an arsenal of verses for my battle with panic and despair.

Two of my favorites are Philippians 4:6-7.

Phil.4Large

One of my favorite books for dealing with the war of the mind (in addition to the Bible) is:

Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling toxic thoughts and emotions by Dr. Caroline Leaf

whoswitchedoffmybrain

You and I have heard that God’s Word renews our minds, but it is truly astounding to understand how that plays out scientifically.

Thoughts are basically electrical impulses, chemicals and neurons. They look like a tree with branches. As the thoughts grow and become permanent, more branches grow and the connections become stronger.

As we change our thinking, some branches go away, new ones form, the strength of the connections change, and the memories network with other thoughts (Leaf 19-20).

brain
Dr. Leaf goes on to explain that when a thought is formed, information then swirls through our hippocampus to the front of our brain for the next 24 to 48 hours, constantly being amplified, molded, and changed. We either reinforce the thought the way it is, or change it in some way.

Proteins are made and used to grow new branches to hold your thoughts, a process called protein synthesis. So, if we don’t get rid of the thought we reinforce it. This is quite phenomenal because science is confirming that we can choose to interfere with protein synthesis by our free will. If you say you “can’t” or “won’t,” this is a decision of your free will and will actually cause protein synthesis and changes in the real estate of your brain. Now “bringing into captivity every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5 KJV) starts to become a lot more important. Thoughts are constantly remodeled by the “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV).

When we do this, we actually change the physical structure (called neuroplasticity) of the brain… (Leaf 59-61).

Sunflower Field with setting Sun in Background, nice Sunburst and Sunbeams

I am reminded:

I am not enslaved to my current toxic thoughts: My mind can be renewed.

Even if  the Lord is trying to tell me something through his warning to Simon Peter…

Even if  the very worst case scenario should happen…

I have a choice!

2 Timothy 1:7

When I’m afraid…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

When I’m overwhelmed…

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

When I fear Satan’s attacks…

“in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37).

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I can literally change my mind.

2Cor10-5

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