How To Minister To Those Who Are Suffering (Part II)

I wrote a post a few months ago with some helpful hints on how to minster to those who are suffering. Obviously, people receive love differently, so that should always be considered when trying to serve someone. I thought it might be helpful to list a few things that I have noticed, since prior to our current struggle, I had NO idea what to do for people...other than making a meal (not really a strength of mine, but I'd at least attempt to muddle through a dinner or two).  I always felt so useless in that type of situation. That first post, can be found here for those who missed it:

As we have marched on in this journey that began over eight long months ago, I continue to learn things that I hope to apply in the future with others who are hurting. It is one of many blessings in our struggle...that instead of feeling completely helpless in the future...maybe I will be better able to love someone well through a crisis. Maybe. I still have a lot to learn. I have also spoken with several others about their recent experiences in suffering and how people could have better ministered to them.

I'm sure there will be more to come, as our journey stretches on and hopefully, as we have some distance from the intense pain, but for now, here are a few additional things...some similar to items on the first list (but they are important enough to list again), others are new:

  • If you are the one suffering, allow people to help you.  It seems strange and a bit awkward at first, but it is necessary if you are going through a major crisis. Food, childcare, laundry, cleaning, financial...whatever it may be. People may not know what to do, but most want to help, so don't be afraid to ask for specific needs. We are all gifted differently and there is usually someone who can fill each gap. It is one thing to have people bring you a few meals when a new baby comes home - it is a nice luxury...but when walking through a terrifying and exhausting life event...you cannot survive unless you allow others to relieve some of your burdens.
  • I have heard several people mention lately that they didn't know what to do or say when a friend or family member was suffering (for fear of doing the wrong thing), so they did nothing. Do NOT do this. Nothing is perceived by most as either not caring or being too busy to care and neither option is good for the long-term viability of a relationship. Try...even if is it wrong...if you are humble and your motive is sincere...most will perceive it as coming in love and they will appreciate the effort. 
  • If you are the sufferer, have a "Magic Box." We had a cooler by our front door - it was faux wicker, so it actually didn't look awful and it became kind of a semi-permanent fixture. Initially I thought it would just be for meals, but people ended up leaving gifts, groceries, goodies...there was always a nice little surprise...yet we didn't have to plan ahead, be home, or find the energy to chat, because I'd fill the cooler with ice in the morning and not have to think about it again for the rest of the day.
  •  Touch base every now and then. Some people like to talk on the phone for endless hours, others do not. But everyone appreciates knowing that they are being thought about, prayed for, etc. It can feel very lonely when you are walking through a valley. It seems as though the world is passing you by. It isn't necessary for everyone to suffer along with you, but it is nice to know as they go about their busy and happy lives, that they are invested in yours. Send a text, leave a voice mail, write a note...if the person wants to chat, they will know you are open for it. If they don't, at least they will know you haven't either forgotten about them or are simply too busy to care. If they don't want to chat, don't be offended...sometimes there is no energy left for conversation.
  • Little things are sometimes as nice as big things. A friend brought me lunch in the hospital one day. My sister-in-law would bring coffee to the hospital every Saturday morning. One friend took Luke to the beach with them for a few days, another took him to the lake. An acquaintance I scarcely knew prayed so faithfully and always sent texts noting her specific prayers. Another class mom sent beautiful notes and handmade crafts for Bailey to work on...not big things, but they took some thought and effort and were very special. A friend dropped off a loaf of freshly baked bread each week. A few planted flowers in our yard. Some old soccer buddies sent us a grocery gift card. Several dropped off bags of house supplies (paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, etc.). The list is endless...so many sweet and thoughtful gestures reminding us that we weren't alone and shrinking our "to-do" list.
  • Find a need and fill it. Whether it is yard-work, cleaning, carpooling...give some real thought to what would truly be helpful. Keep it simple, don't make it more difficult or a scheduling issue. Just do it.
  • Read their updates...Care Pages, Caring Bridge, blogs, whatever! People living the hard every day do not want to replay the events repeatedly each time they run into a friend they haven't seen in a few weeks...especially if it is supposed to be a close friend. They want to know that those who truly say that they care about them, are following along, hurting with them and praying specifically. If you say that you care, but cannot take two minutes from your busy life to actively find out what is going on, then you are either too busy or you don't care. See above about not being good for the long-term viability of a friendship. Actions speak louder than words. If you do truly care...then read, comment, "like" it...and know what is going on. (Hmmm...can you tell how I really feel about this one? Total honesty these days people...no need to sugar-coat it.) 
  • Be careful about throwing out too many Bible verses. I hesitate to write this because I don't want it to be perceived incorrectly. I have clung to my Bible and my personal worship time with God...it is the only thing that has gotten me through many days. When people send verses that were special to them during a hard time, or something that God specifically put on their hearts to be shared...that is very kind. But in the darkest moments, sometimes sweeping generalities about how God is good and He'll answer prayer...they just don't help. Again, please don't hear me incorrectly...God's Word is wonderful...just be careful and prayerful about how it is presented.
  • Don't look at people with pity. It isn't good or well received. Hugs are nice. "Been thinking about you," is good. "So good to see you," is nice. The tilt of the head and, "Awww..." is not helpful. Pity = bad.
  • Have serving stamina...there is usually a rush of love and help out of the gate, then as things drag on or holidays or vacations come, people tend to lose interest or motivation. Many struggles are not short-term and last for weeks, months, maybe even years...people still need love and support - throughout the duration...not just in the beginning. For obvious reasons, many long-term sufferers need more support later..when they are battle-weary.
  • If something about watching what a person has gone through or how they have handled it helped you in any way, let that person know. I have gotten a number of notes about how our journey has challenged people to change their priorities, consider their relationship with God, or just asking for our counselor's phone number...that we have had some impact on someone else's life helps to make this valley meaningful...we will not see God's real plan for some time...but in the short-term, it is nice to know that lives have been affected...even in a little ways

So after eight months, that is the remainder of what I've compiled. Should anything else come to mind, there might be a Part III. :) I am certain that I don't have all the answers and I also know that each situation is different...still, I have learned much. People who are desperately hurting need support, don't shut down because you are afraid of doing the wrong thing. One of the greatest blessings of our journey was seeing how everyone rallied around to serve us...it was absolutely beautiful and our hearts were completely overwhelmed. If you were one of these people...thank you.


Sherry said...

Tiffany, I can not express to you how helpful these two posts about ministering to others have been. Though I have really only been involved as a prayer warrior for your family, I have been thankful for so many that have supported you with meals, gifts, etc. I have other people in my life that I have been walking alongside in suffering, and your suggestions have spoken to me so practically and so boldly. There is so much truth and wisdom in your words, and they have been empowering for me and freeing. So thank you. And I continue to prayer fervently for Bailey and for all of you. Much love,
Sherry Harrell

Sonja said...

I'm so impressed with how you guys have held up through treatments and all your great insights. I love the list and as one who has suffered, I certainly think you have nailed it. I have meant to do a post like this, but I wouldn't have done the subject justice as you have. Take care and good luck in this new stage. It is certainly an adjustment but it gets better and before you know it the hospital will feel very foreign and when you see pictures of your bald headed beauty, it will take you off-guard. We aren't so far out from treatment that we are fear free, but it isn't as all consuming as it once was. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

Heather said...

Tiffany, would it be alright for me to repost this, and your first one, on my church's blog? I'd make some minor edits to adapt it for us, but I think it would be really helpful.