Encountering the suffering of someone else can be daunting. You can immediately feel afraid and responsible to say the right thing that fixes the problem you’ve decided there is.
Why is it common to have a response rooted in fear when someone shares their pain, confusion, or darkness with you? Why do we often focus on fixing a problem, rather than serving the person? There are typically two reasons.
- Our will creeps in. We focus on what we want for that person before taking the time to listen and know what is actually happening and what they truly need. We want to create them in our own image. The scariest part is that we can trick ourselves into thinking that our fear reaction is what is best for them and/or is what God wants.
- Our insecurities creep up. We feel inadequate and don’t think we are equipped to serve the needs of the person who has approached us. We haven’t experienced something like this and we are unfamiliar with this type of struggle. We begin to worry about the right thing to say or do in this type of situation and neglect to recognize the unique experience of this person. We don’t know what to say, so we often end up saying something harmful.
How do we recognize when our fear, will, or insecurities are getting in the way of loving and serving the person in front of us?
If the initial feeling you have is fear, take a moment and take a breath. Being aware and present in the moment can avoid a harmful response. When fear is driving the response, a natural progression can be to dehumanize the person and make them an issue or problem to fix. You may feel compelled to correct, attack or ambush them. These reactions often come to the surface because the person that is standing in front of you becomes an obstacle for you. You begin to build a wall instead of allowing God to build a bridge. All of these things can happen internally within seconds. If you can recognize that fear has entered your heart before you react, there’s a good chance that you can reorient yourself towards a loving response.
What does it look like to have a response rooted in love?
When someone shares their reality with you, they are simply a person having an experience. This isn’t your next project being presented to you or an opportunity to make an impact on someone. You can rest your heart and take the weight off your shoulders. That person is a struggling human being, just like you. It’s crucial that they remain a person to you in that moment…a person to love and serve…not a problem to fix. There is no perfect response. But when you have a perfect intention to love, God can make beautiful things happen. Tell yourself, 100 times if you need to: This person is loved by God, so they are loved by me.
GIVE GOD SPACE TO WORK IN THE HEART OF THAT PERSON. LOVE LETS GO OF WANTING TO FIX AND CORRECT AND MAKES ROOM FOR A HEALING RELATIONSHIP. ASK GOD TO CONVERT YOUR HEART AND ALLOW YOU TO BE WHAT THAT PERSON NEEDS.
Unless it’s an urgent matter of physical safety, 99% of the time, the person that approaches you simply needs a loving presence. They need someone to love them because they likely don’t love themselves at the moment. They need peace, comfort, and their burden to feel lighter. The LAST thing they need is correction to be the initial response. If they came to you, they are aware of the ways that they are lost. They need to be found! They don’t need affirmation or condemnation. They need to be acknowledged as someone who is worthy of God’s love. This acknowledgement is powerful because the way we approach people can either show them a God who rejects them or a God who welcomes them home.
Let’s begin with this first step of recognizing when fear is leading our reaction to someone. This first step of inner awareness can be what leads to the most healing and loving encounter. Healing is a process. It can begin in a moment but is sustained by a loving community that is present for the duration of the journey. Let’s pray that God allow us to lead with love in those crucial moments when we encounter Him in the suffering of another.
Here are a few points that may help lead with love when difficult conversations or situations come to you.
- If someone comes to talk to you, you’re already doing something right. Continue to keep the situation comfortable. Don’t be shocked by what they are telling you. Rather, commend them for their courage and tell them that you are glad they want to talk about it.
- Let them tell you why they came to you. React to their emotions. For example, “It seems like you are feeling_________ about this. What can I do?”
- Lead them to discover the right answer to their own questions. It’s better to ask more questions than to give answers. If they came to you, it’s likely they know what is best and healthiest for them.
- The “In my experience…” approach is much more effective than the “You’re wrong because…” approach. If someone doesn’t feel judged and accused, they are much more likely to be open to positive guidance.
- Listen without judgment, problem-solving, or agreeing or disagreeing. Fight the urge to share a personal experience while someone is disclosing. That’s the last thing you would want.
Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director