Straight from a Comforting Heart
By Lisa Elliott
If there’s one thing that we all share in common, it’s loss. Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a friendship; any loss can cause us to ultimately suffer the loss of hope and joy. Especially at Christmas time. And the tragedy is that often we are unprepared to know exactly what to do or say for people dealing with crises or loss. Everyone wants to help—but how?
The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Just Between Us Magazine entitled, “Comforting Those with Holiday Heartache”. A similar version appears in my book, The Ben Ripple. It will hopefully give you some helpful hints as to how to come alongside someone who is hurting this Christmas. I call them, “Proverbs for Comforters”.
1. Surprises are not pleasant to the one whose life is already full of them!
Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re dealing with a crisis is turn away well-intending people. It’s exhausting and can be very frustrating.
- Always call ahead. Calling ahead allows the person you’re comforting the freedom to say they’re not up for a visit without the embarrassment or responsibility of having to send you away when you get there. It also allows the person to anticipate a visit rather than having to respond to it
- Take inventory. Even if you’ve called ahead, things change in a split second. Take a look around the room. Are there other visitors? Is there a doctor in the room? Has the timing of your visit turned out not such a good time?
- Set visitation boundaries. Say things like, “I won’t be staying long” (and mean it) or “I’m only staying for 15 min max” (and stick to it). It’s better to leave the person wanting more than less of you!
2. Wise is the one who does not get easily offended when he knocks and no one answers.
Often people in crisis feel on display. It can feel like everyone is watching and looking for a response. Worse yet, everyone seems to have the solution when they do get a response.
- Be resourceful without being controlling. If there’s one thing that a person in crisis loses, it is a sense of control. Therefore, make a proposal or offer and leave the final call to the person.
- Be available without being intrusive. The key phrase is “This is what I’m thinking. Would you like me to…?”
3. Blessed is the man who talks about the elephant in the room; poor is the man who pretends it is not there.
People are often uncomfortable with others’ pain. If they can’t fix it, they don’t know what to do with it.
- Acknowledge the elephant. It’s as easy as saying, “Look! There’s an elephant in the room!”
Invite the elephant into conversation. Share a memory. Share your personal feelings about the situation or loss.
4. Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
The angels that appeared to the shepherds that dark night of Jesus’ birth came to bring tidings of comfort and joy that would be to all people. We, on the other hand, as well-intentioned as we try to be, aren’t always successful at bringing much comfort. The truth is we can’t handle each other’s pain, so instead we try to snatch it away with advice and words that aren’t necessarily being asked for.
- Listen, Listen, Listen. One of the best gifts you can give a person is your listening ear. Words often get in the way. It’s okay to not know what to do or say! Just say so. “I don’t know what to do or say.” It’s better than doing or saying something everyone will regret.
5. It’s not wise to ask for directions from someone who is lost.
When someone is in crisis, they don’t necessarily know what time of day it is let alone what they need or when. Often they don’t have the emotional strength or mental ability to even think of asking for help. It can be frustrating when people say, “Just let me know what I can do to help you” or “Call me if you need anything.” Without realizing it, these people all put the onus on people in crisis
- Use what you’ve been given. Use your spiritual gift. There’s nothing better than the body of Christ functioning as a body.
- Give what you’ve got. Check out your resources and offer what you’ve got available. Practical help, gift cards, care packages, personal items, money, meals, encouragement notes. For someone who’s grieving, consider gifting a person with a Christmas ornament with the name of their loved one engraved on it or a quiet worship CD.
6. A fool walks into a room and says “Here I am!” but wise is the one who walks into a room and says, “There you are.”
You can still be an encouragement without providing a party atmosphere. Keep in mind that it’s hard to be in a party zone when you’re dealing with somber issues.
- Provide companionship. I love that God walks us through our pain. Psalm 23 says, Yea though I walk through the valley…Thou art with me.
- Validate the pain. We spend more time trying to talk others out of their pain than validating it. The Bible instructs us to mourn with those who mourn—not rejoice them out of it.
Above all else, trust that, when the time comes, The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, will give you the necessary wisdom to comfort those in any trouble with the comfort you yourselves have received from God (2 Cor. 1:2-4).
The Ben Ripple; Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose includes a wealth of practical tips for those either going through or seeking to come alongside those in crisis.
About this Contributor:
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally, she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
To book Lisa for a weekend retreat or day conference contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org