The ultimate test of how much we care
for someone is whether we can rejoice when they are rejoicing, and
weep when they are weeping.5 This is more profound than it may
sound, for some of us really only come alive when others are weak,
but feel redundant – resentful even – if they are doing well.
We cannot fail to be a blessing if we
are prepared to weep when others are weeping – provided only that we
are not doing this primarily in order to meet our own emotional
needs. The last thing we should ever seek to do is to take advantage
of their weakness to make us feel superior.
Those of us who are in ministry may
need to take extra care in this regard. We may need to guard
ourselves against getting so emotionally involved that it affects
our judgement. Loving gestures, offered with no sexual intention,
can likewise risk being misunderstood. As always, such relationships
benefit from appropriate covering and accountability. It is wise to
be especially careful when dealing with griefs that remind us of
losses that we ourselves have experienced and which we may not have
fully recovered from.
There is no shame or stigma in
referring a person for more specialized help than we are able to
provide. It is all part of the body of Christ functioning as it
should. Someone else may have just the right mixture of skills and
experience to reach them.
Unlike the volunteers who staff the
Samaritans and other emergency help lines, I am fortunate in that I
often get to hear the follow-up to people’s stories, whereas they
have the difficult and challenging task of drawing out people’s
hurts and woundings without discovering the outcome.6
Volunteers have an important part to
play in providing emergency care, and are trained not to inspire
false hopes. Phrases such as “I’m sure these tests will come back
negative,” or, “Your child is sure to come home soon,” should never
be used lightly.7
Wisdom often lies in mirroring back
to the person the things that they have said, and leaving it to
their own conscience, and the Holy Spirit, to do any work of
convicting that is called for.
Because people often hold out against
the Holy Spirit’s prompting, however, knowing when to make more
proactive suggestions can be a highly sensitive matter. Pray before
speaking for them to be willing to face issues head-on.
When people respond with anger to
your best efforts to reach out to them, pray for grace to know when
to keep trying to come close, when to respect their need for
distance, and when to encourage them to seek out the real reasons
for their reactions. If people appear prickly, rejecting things that
deep down we sense they would want to embrace, it is often because
they are reacting to hurts which have lodged in the core of their
being. For their long-term well-being it may well be wise to
encourage them to seek appropriate help.