In this troubled world, we don’t have to look far to see hurting souls suffering from frustration, fear, loneliness, embarrassment, deception, grief, humiliation, disappointment or betrayal. Jesus even warned us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” It wasn’t a threat, just a statement of fact that underlies the hurt and pain we all eventually face. Regardless of the circumstances, the antidote is always the same – comfort.
I am sad to say that it took many years into my ministry to understand how to comfort someone. I remember feeling so awkward when trying to minister to someone who was hurting. Because I didn’t know what to say, I would inevitably say something I shouldn’t have. Some of these unproductive responses include trying to give advice, analyzing the situation, giving a pep talk, minimizing the hurt, taking on the anger, trying to fix the problem, spiritualizing, even saying nothing.
Comfort involves entering into the emotional pain of another person, to actually feel what someone else is feeling. While our sympathy acknowledges that someone else is hurting, empathy – true comfort – goes one step further: “I am hurting because you are hurting.”
Over the years I have learned some practical ways to comfort one another.
- Learn to sense when people need comfort and be available and willing to minister to them. When people are physically ill, under stress, unemployed, facing the loss of a loved one, struck by the trauma of divorce, separation, job change or relocation, they will have an enhanced need for comfort.
- While it is possible to comfort someone over the phone or in a letter, comfort is best administered in person.
- Ministering comfort involves entering the person’s emotional world as well, by actually feeling what she is feeling.
- A good comforter must be a good listener in order to discern how the hurting person is feeling. The one who has been hurt should do most of the talking.
- Learn the vocabulary of comfort.
· “I’m so sorry you are hurting. I hurt for you.”
· “It saddens me that you are hurting. I am sad that you are sad because I love you and care for you.”
· “I’m on your side, and I’m committed to help you through this difficult time.”
· “It saddens me that you felt ____________ (embarrassed, rejected, etc.). I know that must have hurt.”
· “I know you are hurting. I just had to come be with you.”
Use appropriate physical touch – a warm embrace, holding hands.
- Express sadness non-verbally. Tears shed for someone else can convey love beyond words. When Jesus sees his friends weeping over Lazarus, He weeps. (John 11:35) Jesus is crying not because Lazarus is dead; He knows Lazarus will rise from the dead. Jesus weeps because his friends are weeping. He empathizes with their sorrow.
- Concentrate on comforting, not fixing. During initial contact, the most important thing is to minister to the person who is hurting. At a subsequent time and place, we may have the opportunity to address how the hurt can be resolved.
When we comfort someone who is mourning, we will experience a miracle. It is the miracle of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Mourning + comforting = being blessed. Our opportunities to comfort one another start at home with the child who has been embarrassed at school, at work with the colleague whose name is on the layoff notice, or at church with the parishioner whose partner has asked for a divorce. In these difficult times, comfort may indeed be in short supply.
Don McMinn, Ph.D. (with Kimberly Spring)
Executive Director of theiPlace.org
The 11th Commandment: Experiencing the One Anothers of Scripture