All adults need people who will stand with them during difficult times. The Bible says, "Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). How can you show people you care? How can you help to carry the burdens of people who are coping with adversity? Here are eight tips.
Listen, listen, listen
Listening might be the paramount caregiving skill. When we listen, and I mean really listen to people, we demonstrate that their problems and concerns matter to us. Listening affirms the worth of the other person. Great listeners cultivate the ability to hear not only the words but also the feeling behind the spoken words. If you developed only the ability to listen well, you would be an effective caregiver.
Be cautious about giving advice
Rather than give advice, help people identify and evaluate the options available to them. A church member talked with me recently about a problem in her life. She came to me for advice. After I listened to the her explanation of the problem, I asked, "What are you thinking you should do?"
She talked about an idea she had. I then asked, "What other options do you have?" Somewhat surprised, she said, "I don't think I have any." But after a moment, another idea came to mind, and she stated another possible way she had to solve her problem. Next I asked, "What else might you do?" Would you believe she stated a third, and better, available option? This woman left my office armed with at least three possible courses of action for solving her dilemma - that she came up with herself.
While you may be tempted to give advice immediately to someone who is seeking help, sometimes the best thing to do is (again) listen and let people talk out their problems and possible solutions.
Refrain from judging and condemning
I have observed that, when people mess up, blow it, or make bad choices, they feel pretty bad. They don't need me to add another heaping dose of judgement or condemnation.
Our problems can make us feel we are hopeless, without solutions, and destined for failure. Convey hope to people who suffer the consequences of a poor choice. Assure them that no mistake or sin lies beyond the reach of God's forgiveness.
Avoid saying, "I know how you feel"
Even though you may have had the same experience as someone else, similarities may end there. To say we know how a person feels means we have walked in their shoes throughout that experience.
If we aren't supposed to say, "I know how you feel," what are we to say to communicate concern? Consider these possibilities.
- "I have some understanding of what you're going through."
- "I went through a similar experience once."
- "I hurt with you."
- "I can see the pain on your face."
- "You seem to be hurting."
- "What's the hardest part about this for you?"
- "What are you feeling right now that you had not expected to feel?"
Be alert to warning signals
Here's what I mean by "warning signals." A person you have always known as a happy, jolly, effervescent, life-of-the party individual displays a look of deep concern on his face all week long. Until now, you've never seen a frown on this person's face. The frown and deep concern showing on your friend's face serve as warning signals that something is going on in this person's life, and you should be attentive.
This is a pretty obvious example, but watch for these types of signs and unusual behaviors that may indicate someone may be struggling with something.
Realize the power of your presence
In the face of death, severe crises, gut-wrenching heartache, and the like, we often struggle with what we should say. I have known people who were hesitant to minister to hurting folks because they feared they would not say the right words. Sometimes your physical presence - the fact that you are simply there - speaks more loudly than spoken words.
Never divulge confidences
As we minister to hurting people, they may confess gross errors in judgment as well as personal sins they have committed. People who make themselves vulnerable and confide their personal secrets in you have also placed great trust in you. They are counting on you to keep confidential what they have shared with you.
Let God guide you
The psalmist prayed, "Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me" (Ps. 25:4-5). In determining how best to show care for people, ask God to guide you. When you struggle with what to say, ask God to give you the right words. When you wonder if the person you want to help will be receptive to your care, ask God to create openness. When you feel inadequate to help, ask God to equip you.