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


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.


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

  1. Shannon May 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm Reply

    Thanks for this, Jennifer. I tend to err on the side of not mentioning anything, but I’ve also been on the receiving side of this silence and know what a lonely place that can be. Thanks for your encouragement to carefully broach the subject in love.

  2. Jennifer Ebenhack May 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm Reply

    Yeah Shannon, I know what you mean. It is so hard to know what the “right” thing to do is. I was really glad to get consistent feedback from so many people saying, “Yes! We still want you to at least say something.” Thanks for your comment!

  3. Katie November 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this well written, thoughtful article!

    • Jennifer Ebenhack November 4, 2013 at 9:30 pm Reply

      Hi Katie! I’m so glad it was a blessing. Thanks for your encouragement!

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