When Our Neighbor Cries
The awkward silence we sometimes experience when attending to someone in the midst of sadness, grief, and despair can be one of counseling and discipleship's most difficult moments. It is true that our silent sitting is sometimes the best possible reponse in a given moment, but eventually, we will speak. Indeed, there comes a time when we must speak.
But, what to say?
The Gottman Institute is credited with providing the substance of a helpful meme I recently encountered online. It's called, "10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying.'" I greatly appreciated the good, wise, and helpful content. Still, I wanted it to say much more. Specifically, I wanted it to point the suffering person to Christ and the benefits of union with him.
The promises of God far surpass even the very best of man's wisdom. And, even though we have much to offer the suffering soul by way of our mere presence, it is the presence of Christ, sent by the Father, and mediated by the work of the Holy Spirit through the word of God, that they need most.
What follows then is a biblical counseling adaptation of Gottman's "10 Things," infused with biblical hope.
10 Biblical Responses to the Storms of Life
1. It's ok to be sad--the Bible affirms that our sadness can be a most normal and reasonable response to the storms of life. The Psalmist in Psalm 42:3 writes, "My tears have been my food day and night ..." And, Jesus taught, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit" and "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matt. 5:3-4).
2. This is really hard for you--which is why God designed our lives to be lived with one another, rather than alone. I'll help you carry this burden (Gal. 6:2). Together, with his help, we'll re-discover hope.
3. I'm here with you--this is what Proverbs 17:17 means, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." I'm sorry you're going through this, but I'm glad I get to be with you.
4. Tell me about it--the Bible reminds us that, among other things, God knows and hears our prayers, and so he calls us to pray for one another. I want to pray for you. Help me understand what you're going through, so that I can pray both now and in the days ahead for you (James 5:16).
5. I hear you--I don't want to do all the talking. It's good for you to share, and for me to listen (James 1:19). Your story matters to me.
6. That was really scary, sad, etc.--throughout the Bible, beginning most importantly with Jesus, difficult stories of human suffering are told. Your story reminds me of that truth, and of the hope we have in Christ through suffering. Your story won't be wasted (Rom. 8:28).
7. I will help you work it out--that's what the church exists for, in part: the sharing in each other's burdens and working to provide whatever help is needed for one another (2 Cor. 1:3-7).
8. I'm listening--just like the readers of Paul's letters frequently read of his sufferings, as recorded in his letters (i.e. 2 Cor. 1:8), I'm here to listen to you. We may not be writing Scripture, but together we can search for Christ in your story. In him, we'll find hope to understand, and power for healing.
9. I hear that you need space. I want to be here for you. I'll stay close so that you can find me when you're ready--the Bible teaches us that "there's a time for every matter under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1). If you're not ready to talk now, it's ok. I'll be ready when you are.
10. It doesn't feel fair--one of the hardest truths we face as Christians is the reality that we live in a fallen world, where injustice abounds due to human sin. But, we are known and loved by a God who is both soveriegn and just over your story. Let's read together and pray over the truths of James 1:2-8.
Our God Knows
The ten responses outlined above are general in nature. They're in no way exhaustive (how can man exhaust the wisdom of God), but merely representative of how Scripture brings eternal help to our temporal counseling problems.
You might come up with one-hundred unique responses of your own. That's the beauty of Scripture to counseling. We have a treasure trove of heavenly wisdom at our fingertips by which to point others to true hope and change in the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16). Secular wisdom, as helpful as it may be at times, falls short because it terminates not on Christ, but on man for help and hope.
Therefore, the next time we find ourselves counseling with or discipling someone caught up in a time of sadness or despair, let's take up the confidence of Paul, who said, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
"The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience." D.A. Carson