Anytime someone is facing a difficult circumstance, there will already be enough ways for the situation to go off the tracks without all the variables people around the situation can bring. In an attempt to give some basic pointers for those of us fortunate enough to be “in the mess” with others, here are some basic dos and don’ts.
- Show up
- Shut up
- Cry with them, not for them
- Affirm your commitment to them
- Follow up — often
- Stay in the mess
- Work hard to network resources
- Know your own limits — you are not Jesus, but you can be a great representation of Him when you are aware of yourself
- Try to fix the situation
- Stay away because it is hard or uncomfortable
- Judge — you don’t know what you think you know
- Assume you understand
- Pity them
- Try to pull them out of the mess too soon
- Offer platitudes — trite sayings are more about the discomfort of those around the situation than about helping those in the situation
An important lesson we can learn is that people will not remember the words you speak into their deepest grief or pain, but they will absolutely remember your presence — or lack thereof.
A key to impacting pain well is a tool called “immediacy.” This means we stay very aware of what is going on inside ourselves so we can measure how others are experiencing us in that moment. We often wind up saying or doing something that seems to us to be helpful, but can cause what is known as a second emotional injury for the person in pain. The reason we say and do such things is ultimately tied to our own discomfort. While it may make me feel better, it hurts the person I say I am trying to help.
Ultimately, impacting pain means pressing into discomfort — not trying to resolve it. May you become comfortable with discomfort. May you run toward situations most would run from. And in the midst of the mess, may you find God’s amazing peace and order emerging from the chaos.