by Michael Bellamy

What do we do when we don’t know what to do?

When someone tells you their story, particularly if they have had a difficult or traumatic past it is a great privilege to be trusted with this information.  It likely took great courage in sharing it.  Upon hearing it, you might be struck by the amazing resilience this person has shown and feel deeply saddened in hearing all they have endured. Your next thought might be ‘how do I help this person’?  ‘If I tell them I just don’t know they might feel utterly hopeless or rejected’.

Listening to the scale of someone’s problems and our inability to solve them can very quickly leave us anxious and overwhelmed.  We may start to distance ourselves and try to think of who else might be better able to help (and it maybe that a referral to a professional or someone experienced is needed).  But either way, backing off because it all seems too daunting may leave the person feeling hurt and rejected.

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Well, for a start, you take the responsibility of solving their problems off your shoulders.  It was never your task in the first place.  Most people who are hurting don’t need you to tell them the solutions to their problems.  They’ve probably had a lifetime of ‘experts’ (doctors, teachers, parents etc.) telling them what’s best for them; which, as helpful as it may have been at times can equally be disempowering and lead them to lack trust in their own judgement.

More than anything hurting people need to be heard.  James 1:19 advises ‘be swift to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  They need to know that whatever they share will be met with acceptance patience and compassion.  They need to know that you are genuine, that what they see on the outside is the same as inside.  When you try to hide how you really feel your body language invariably gives you away.  I’ll discuss listening skills in more detail my next post.

In any relationship there are three person’s involved – you, the other and God.  Knowing your what your responsibility is, what the other person’s is and what God’s is will really take the pressure off any helping relationship and make it more manageable.

The good news is that as Christians, God has given us everything we need to lead fulfilling lives (2 Peter 1:3).  That’s His responsibility and He has done it.  This means that however wounded or hurting someone is they can find a place of recovery and joy!

As the helper, your responsibility is to be reliable and consistent.  Don’t offer something (be it time, or practical help) you won’t deliver on – that goes without saying.  Know that trust has to be earned and hurting people sometimes behave in ways that on the face of it seems self-defeating, but that’s the only way they know of keeping themselves safe.  Clearly modelling godly character and behaviour is a must (Titus 2:7, Colossians 3:17, Ephesians 6:18).  Help the hurting Christian to know all they really are in Jesus and remind them of those truth’s as often as is needed.  For the non-Christian, model those truths and values and in all cases, share what is appropriate and respectful to the individual.

For the hurting person, there needs to be a willingness to engage in a helping relationship.  We were never meant to go it alone.  Part of God’s provision is a family among His people (Psalm 68:6); committed, believing friends supporting one another in bringing all aspects of life in line with His will.

You can do it!

Photograph: Question mark chalk on pavement by Virtual EyeSee (CC BY 2.0)