The last 10 years have been greatly marked by loss. From a young age, our eldest son began displaying behavior that was defiant and destructive, causing a decade of confusion and chaos in our home. Countless doctors, tests, and evaluations left doctors shaking their heads, and all we had in the end was a growing financial burden and growing fears.
Along with that, my own health grew worse, and with each of the four children I bore, I found myself increasingly unable to function through my chronic pain and illness. As my son’s disorder intensified, confusion and hurt began to grow in our other children, and our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all. When we were at our lowest point, convinced that we couldn’t endure anything else, my husband lost half of his income, and we were forced to sell our dream home and downsize to a smaller rental home as medical expenses continued to pile up.
Our family was in crisis. We were broken and wondering where God was and what he was doing. I found myself battling despair, hopelessness, and deep questions of faith that I had never had to face before.
In 2015 we were referred to a group of doctors who diagnosed me with Lyme disease. It wasn’t long before this led to testing which revealed that the illness in all four of our children, as well as my husband, were the result of Lyme disease being passed on from me.
As I endure the ups and downs of my son’s challenges, all four children’s Lyme disease, financial pressures, and my own chronic pain and fatigue, I have a moment-by-moment choice to press on through the trenches or give way to the crushing burden of my circumstances.
Where We Find True Comfort
You might be reading this because either you or someone you love is suffering, or you want to know how to better minister to those who are suffering. If you’re in the first group, I hope you will begin to see your suffering through the hope of the gospel. If you’re among the second group, thank you for seeking to love and encourage the hurting people in your congregation. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about how to best support those who hurt.
Through these hard years, I have learned many deep lessons about walking alongside those who are suffering. The Lord has taught me this in two ways:
First, he’s taught me where my true comfort lies.
Pain tends to send us in one of three ways: We withdraw and wallow in it (which leads us to self-pity and hopelessness); we look to others to ease it (which can make us needy and easily hurt by those who don’t see our pain); or, by God’s grace, we fall on our knees in desperation for Christ’s comfort (which meets our deepest needs, grows our love for Jesus, and lifts our eyes off ourselves).
The truth is, the body of Christ is not a replacement for Christ. We will not truly appreciate the comfort of our brothers and sisters in Christ until we are first filled with the life-giving comfort of Christ himself through the Word and prayer. But as we learn to depend on our Savior for our strength, wisdom, and needs, we often grow to realize that one of the ways he meets us is through the community of believers.
Second, he’s taught me that we comfort others out of the comfort we have received from him.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
How does this look practically? Since we often won’t be able to relate to another person’s specific trials, making it impossible to fully enter into their pain, how do we comfort them with the comfort of Christ, rather than with our opinions, experiences, and false promises?
We need to realize that comforting another person in their pain is not simply commiserating with them, and it may not always mean agreeing with them. It is speaking the truths of the gospel that we’ve found of greater value than any earthly comfort.
We need to point to God’s promises while being real about the present. Instead of telling them it will be alright and life will get easier (which we can’t guarantee), we can grieve alongside them and comfort them with the truth that God is near, he sees their pain, and he will be faithful to his promises.
Although we may not be able to make sense of what someone is going through, Christ promises that as they choose to trust him (even if their faith is hanging by a thread and their emotions are fogging the lens of truth), he will faithfully use those trials to accomplish his good and loving purposes in their life and the lives of those around them.
Six Suggestions for Comforting a Hurting Person
You may not be able to offer answers or temporary solutions that ease someone’s pain, but you can offer the comfort of Christ and the eternal value of suffering with him. Here are a few suggestions:
➢ Be slow to judge whether they are suffering “well,” and quick to grieve and mourn alongside them.
➢ Be slow to speak the “truths” you think they need to hear, and quick to discern and pray about encouraging them with Scripture and God’s promises in a gentle and gracious way.
➢ Be slow to impatience, and quick to learn how to be long-suffering.
➢ Be slow to run away from the discomfort of entering another’s pain, and quick to allow God to use their suffering to grow your faith.
➢ Be slow to speak your opinions and solutions, and quick to listen and hear their heart.
➢ Be slow to ask how to help, without an intention of following through, and quick to intentionally and practically help in whatever ways you’re able.
Comfort is being there for someone, meeting their practical needs, and offering a loving heart and listening ear. But comfort is also reminding them that Christ is always there for them and that he will be all they need.
When you bravely and gently enter into someone else’s pain, remember to speak comfort by encouraging them to cling to Christ.