How should we respond in the midst of pain?
The psalmists often lament, crying out their complaint to God as to why he is not answering their prayer. This is why we are fact-checking statement about dealing with difficulty. The post you are reading is number 5 of 5. If you’re starting here, I encourage you to go back to the first post, as we fact-checked statements like “God helps those who help themselves,” and “This too shall pass,” finding that we Christians are too quick to dole out these mantras and can actually increase a person’s pain. Many going through hard times are actively seeking God, remaining faithful to God, even if it seems God has grown silent and is nowhere to be found. So what can we say to people that will help them?
First of all, we need to check out motivation and pause before we say or do anything. Remember that difficulty is called difficulty because it is difficult. We struggle. We feel anxiety, panic, stress, and fear.
Perhaps the best initial response is simply to give the person a hug, and affirm that you love them and are here for them. Then pray for them, out loud, right then and there. You don’t need to make any statements about the pain going away. Just like the lamenters in the psalms do, just ask God to be there.
Then listen. Allow the person to talk. We Christians would do well to practice the discipline of empathy, learning to mourn with those who mourn, as Paul says in Romans 12:15.
As difficult as it can be in those situations, the proper response is to continue to trust in God, following the way of Jesus.
It is okay to try to encourage someone with the phrase, “this too shall pass”, but be empathetic to remember that the person is struggling, and it might not pass. These statements are proverbial, meaning they are generally true, but there are exceptions. And those exceptions are what we need to be very attuned to. People and their struggles don’t fit neatly into categories.
It is okay to try to point someone to God in the midst of their struggle, but remember that they might have been seeking God already for days, months, and all they are feeling is distance. In those moments, it is okay to lament, to complain to God, saying “How long O Lord, are you going to make me wait?”
My wife recently heard someone speak about losing their child. They said they turned to their spouse at that moment and said, “This will forever change us. How we move forward in this will determine exactly what changes it makes.” This couple decided to pray hard and regularly for God to grow them and teach them through this pain that will be with them forever. I can tell you, as we know them on the other side of their pain, that that is exactly what happened. There are other situations where I’ve seen pain, and people have simply just asked God to remove it. Sometimes he does, but sometimes it is not removed. Some people battle for years with bitterness and anger and negativity. How we walk through difficulty matters. We are not promised it will be taken away. We are not guaranteed to be able to handle it on our own. Sometimes stuff happens because our own choices, or because of others’ choices. Sometimes stuff happens because of how poorly we handle it or how badly we respond to other’s actions. Stuff happens because we live in a fallen world with sickness and disease. Through it all God is here. He hasn’t left. Let’s invite Him into our mess and ask him to change us and grow us to be more like Him, even as we do the work to make things different in the midst of it.