How to Love a Hurting Person
This. Just this.
Loving a hurting person is difficult, because hurting people hurt people. But it's also difficult because you have to get outside of yourself. You have to reject your own logic, common sense, even the truth, and do the painfully difficult thing called empathizing.
Not sympathizing. Empathizing.
"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." - Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV
Sympathizing is leaning over a hole in the ground, looking down on a woman with two broken legs thirty feet below and saying, "I'm so sorry for what you're going through!" It's tossing bags of truth down and asking if she's better yet. It's saying you'll "stay with her" while you congregate with loved ones up above, glancing down on her misery once in awhile to make sure she's still alive and tossing down the occasional encouragement until she's well enough to get out on her own.
Empathizing is entirely different. Empathizing is dropping a rope into the pit. Not so she can climb out, not yet, but it's climbing down in there with her so she's not alone. It's sitting on the dank dirt floor and feeling the shiver up your spine that she feels and saying, "this IS scary. This IS difficult. How can I help?"
It's grabbing her by the hand to help her do what she may have been able to do on her own. The human heart doesn't want to be fixed as much as it just wants to be known. The fixing comes through the knowing. Knowing doesn't come through fixing.
Please understand I am not an advocate of staying depressed or living a life of sorrow or, as some of my friends call it, a downtrodden lifelessness. But sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes tragedy or loss strikes us so hard we can't get back up on our feet. Telling us we have two perfectly good legs doesn't do one bit of good. We're numb, we're broken, we're paralyzed by our experience.
There's a time for truth and encouragement and words of "you got this!" There's also a time to just sit and hold her hand while she has a meltdown and fires off questions without answers and sobs herself into a hot mess. It's not about being fixed. It's about being seen, worth seeing, and loved in being seen.
About ten years ago I was in a terrible car accident. I was driving almost sixty miles per hour down a highway when another car pulled in front of me. I can still hear my scream in my ears. I hit the car while trying to swerve and ended up flying over a curb and hitting a gas station sign. Both airbags deployed, and when it was all over I couldn't get out of the car. I didn't have any broken bones, no major injuries praise God. But I couldn't move. A bystander had to wrench open my door and drag me out of the car. It was an hour before the shock wore off and I could stand.
Sometimes emotional trauma does that to us. It doesn't matter so much what's true. What matters is that we're not alone in our dark, soul-sucking, lifeless pit paralyzed. The time will come when we can stand, but it'll come sooner if people would be willing to leave the safety of the top of the hole and climb down into the pit to help.
"When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some." - 1 Corinthians 9:22, NLT
The man who pulled me out of the car had to be patient enough for me to slowly unbuckle my seat belt before I could get out. He could have done it for me, but he needed to make sure I could move my arms and legs on my own so he wouldn't cause me anymore damage than was necessary if there was damage to my spinal chord.
Don't rush her. Sit with her. See what she can do. Be willing to see things through her eyes so you can understand how to help.
Just as this quote explains: sometimes pulling away isn't a rejection at all. Sometimes anger isn't the real issue - it's hurt, or fear. Sometimes you need to blow past the barriers and hold her even when she's stiff as a board to show her that you're not afraid of her pain. No matter how ugly it is.
Sometimes it means ignoring her claim to be "fine" when you call out - "how you doing?" from up above. How would you be doing in her situation? Would you be fine? Or would you be so scared of another loved one rejecting you, dying on you, leaving you, that you put on a strong front so no one gets close again?
Loving a hurting person is difficult. But if we're all honest, we're all hurting. We don't need to save the world, but we can love one person at a time and allow others to love us in return - however twisted that might look.
Who is in your life today that fits the description of being in a pit? Who do you struggle to reach? Is it because you're trying to fix them or their situation? How can you climb into their pit with them this week and show them you're not going anywhere?
You just might help save a life.