By Mark Regis, Associate Priest
Posted on November 17, 2016
I have the humbling and sacred opportunity to sit with people during some very difficult moments in their lives, whether that’s a death, or illness, or other jarring and painful changes of life’s course.
I went to school for these types of situations, and learned many models of healing and human psychology. So in a sense this training makes me ‘qualified’ for pastoral care and spiritual formation. But to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of it. Textbooks, lectures, and essays are valuable, but like many of us I’ve found that real life doesn’t always line up with what the books tell you.
Yes, some of us have a God-given gift for helping and healing, and there are definitely circumstances where professional counseling is necessary, but these are exceptions in the immediacy of life. Most of the time God brings people and circumstances into our lives and simply says, “I want you to help here.”
So what have I learned for times like these? What I come back to time and time again by God’s grace are very simple principles for helping others in difficult situations, and also importantly, minimizing any potential harm I might cause by saying the wrong thing. Here are four:
1) Listen – Be present and allow for silence as you pay close attention to what the person is saying and what they might be feeling. A compassionate and present listening ear does a lot more good than all the right answers combined. Quite often healing happens when one person simply feels safe to open up to another person and shares what is happening in their heart.
2) Pray – Dare to trust God has brought you into this circumstance and is truly with you. Jesus is the ‘Great Physician’ and loves that person more than we imagine. Boldly ask for his healing presence to bring about change, and to give you wisdom and insight to listen well, ask good questions, and offer insights when appropriate. Archbishop William Temple once said this about prayer, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”
3) Scripture – Simply put, read your Bible! We grow in confidence and trust in God as we spend time in the Word and learn about his amazing mission of restoration and healing and our role in it. The New Testament gives fascinating testimonies of people and communities learning what it means to trust and follow Jesus in serving others during times of need.
4) It’s Bigger than You - In moments like this it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and out of your element, because you are! It’s not okay to believe you have all the answers, because you don’t! We are profoundly complex and mysteriously sensitive, created in God’s image with infinite souls that involve all that we are, body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The Great Physician alone knows the depths and nuances of the human heart so we can relax a bit, our call is never to fix anyone, but to listen to, pray for, and love them.