November 2, 2016
While thinking about friends who are going through trauma, I was pondering ways to encourage them. The challenges can range from terminal illness, broken relationships and financial reversals to seemingly lesser issues that trouble humans – like a favorite sports team losing an important game. Sometimes discouragement comes when we think we are on top of life, but for various reasons, we get down.
I suppose the first thing we need to do is be a good listener. A college student went to a counselor for help, talked for nearly an hour and left saying, “Thanks for the encouragement and advice.” The counselor had only asked a few questions and listened carefully. Being a “fixer” personality, I have to work on this continually, because my tendency is to be quick to offer a solution.
Associated with listening is the need to see if the surface hurts are the result of something deeper. Venting over a sports team loss might be a cover-up for a potential family crisis that is troubling the individual. Asking questions can help those deeper concerns come to the surface.
Realism is important if we want to encourage someone. It does no good to say, “It’s not so bad” to someone whose loved one is dealing with a terminal illness and all medical options have been exhausted. And unless we have experienced their actual situation, we should not say, “I understand,” because we really do not. Honest responses are important. The offer of a hug or a cup of coffee might be the best encouragement.
One of my most-used comments is simply: “I am glad that I do not have to explain what is happening in order to trust Creator God.” In some cases, that is helpful, but we have to be sensitive to the individual and their faith, because at that moment, they might be very angry with God. Fortunately, He can handle that and we need to let Him do just that. It is not our responsibility to explain Him.
My desire is to be an encourager, not an enabler, and never a person who adds to someone’s heartache. A helping hand is sometimes just our attentive presence.
Pastor Bill Ehmann