For the better part of my nearly four decades in ministry, I have listened to hurting Christians pour out their hearts in time of unbearable grief and pain. From battered wives, sexually abused victims, family members whose parent/spouse committed suicide, those betrayed by their spouse, the lonely, the rejected, the addicted; there is seemingly an endless list of afflicted souls who have been hurt by people or events who need careful and Biblical navigation.
What do you say to them? How can they be comforted? Unfortunately, far too often those whose lives are visited by tragedy, or hurt by those they trusted, feel the same pain as Job felt when his friends attempted to guide him through a catastrophic loss, and he replied to them, “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.” In our attempt to help people, we often say the wrong things. There is no doubt in my mind that we have good intentions; however, what we lack is understanding and have a faulty presupposition. Potentially, this is a lethal combination when working with hurting believers.
If you attend a church as I do, you know those who lose a loved one or are stricken with illness will be showered with love and compassion. And every church should emulate love and compassion in the loss of a loved one or those deprived of good health, but what is missing in most churches is the ability to help the “other” hurting members–the battered wife, the abused victim, the married couple who separated or divorced, the parents of a prodigal child, and the list continues. The standard reaction to these “other” hurting Christians is to observe from afar; not because we do not care, but because we do not know what to do. These hurting believers will often leave a church in search of healing.
After listening to dear brothers and sisters in Christ share their anguish, I often use the analogy of being lost in the deep, dark woods. They need rescued, and I have a compass, a map, and a GPS to lead them out of the deep, frightening, dark woods. This and other statements are statements of hope. Hurting Christians need hope; it is their medication to survive another day. They need the sweet balm of hope extended from fellow believers, not condemnation and criticism.
If you are called upon to assist a hurting believer, it is important to be honest with yourself. You may have the heart to help but not the knowledge and experience. You may be opening Pandora’s Box. If I were to visit one of my family members who was awaiting surgery, and upon my arrival the doctor handed me a scalpel and informed me that I was to perform the surgery, there would be a quick, “I don’t think so!” For the same reason, it is important to honestly assess your abilities. All Christians should be willing AND able to be a first echelon comforter that can apply spiritual first aid to those in need. On occasion, I recognize the person with whom I am counseling has deeper issues than what I am capable of handling. At this point, I refer them to someone who can help them, usually a doctor. On numerous occasions, my ministry of Biblical counseling has been hindered by family members and/or friends of the individual with whom I am counseling. They have good intentions usually, but their lack of training brings about bad results—discouragement and hopelessness.
Understanding the DNA of a Hurting Believer
They are not in the same state of mind as you are. Hurting people are fragile and have the potential of hurting others. Wrong tones, wrong words, wrong body language, or anything threatening will trigger their protective instincts and shut them down. This can cause a strained relationship, or in the worse case scenario, end a relationship. Depending upon the nature of ones hurt, it is very possible they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is not limited to combat veterans. I have counseled men and women that I have strongly suspected were gripped by this trauma that has limited their brain function. I believe there are biblical solutions to this diagnosis. The take-away from this is you must be gentle and tactful. The apostle Paul stated in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness….” Spiritually mature Christians are beckoned to restore hurt Christians with a gentle spirit. There is no place for a drill instructor type personality in restoring a believer.
You cannot fix a hurting believer by giving them directives. “Do this, do that” is the method of an inexperienced counselor. Listen to them, reflect upon what they say, and have empathy. Listening is an art that many people do not possess. One of the weaknesses of inexperienced counselors is they are too quick to diagnose and present their perceived solution. This, nearly every time, leaves the hurting believer feeling misunderstood and frustrated. Replace directives with suggestions like, “Would you consider…”? “Perhaps….” “What do you think…”? Directives have potential to create roadblocks in their path of healing. Altar the rate of your speech, reduce your volume, and be very conscious of your tone. Kind and gentle tones are much more effective than harsh, aggressive, accusative tones. Your words must be precise, calculated, and designed to initiate their trust. At times, it is best to say, “I wish I knew what to say, but I don’t.” They will appreciate your honesty. I often interrupt a counseling session with, “Can we pray again? We need God’s help.”
You must present a clear road map of recovery, reconciliation, and hope. This is a game changer. It is important to understand the DNA of a hurting believer. It is important to be gentle as a dove and wise as an owl. But, if you do not have a clear, Biblical road map to guide them, they will become discouraged, and their discouragement may cause them to give up. It would be impossible to present a “This is How You Do It Plan” that presents a cure for all that troubles our sinful soul. Every individual has unique needs that must be assessed by a discerning, Biblical counselor. Counseling is often like rehabbing an old home. The more walls you tear out, the more problems you reveal. I will not attempt to present all the Biblical doctrines that are suitable in helping hurting believers in this limited article; however, it is important to be knowledgeable in the following doctrines:
Forgiveness – Matthew 18:21-35
Repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
Grace – 2 Samuel 9
God’s Sovereignty – Daniel 4:35, Psalm 115:3
Marriage Roles – Ephesians 5:21-33
Resisting Temptations – James 1:12-18
This is a very limited reservoir of scriptures that I use. Each passage of scripture needs a skilled Bible student to exegete what God is communicating and how it applies to our lives.
If any reader is in need of biblical counseling, I can be reached at email@example.com or 219-742-9635. I do virtual counseling as well as in- person counseling. You may log on to gracetochangeministries.com for instructions and more information about my counseling ministry.