REMEMBER THE ORPHAN’S POSTURE
Imagine yourself receiving this news. The paperwork for the child your family has been waiting to adopt from overseas is finally finished. Your new son is from war-torn Sudan. He lost both his parents in the relentless bombing and desperately needs a new home as soon as possible. Elated, you fly to the country and make plans to visit the orphanage where he has been living for the past year. You have brought a couple of presents to give to him and you stop to pick up some balloons that morning to commemorate this wonderful occasion. When you arrive, the director of the orphanage takes you aside. “You will have to re-think the way you are going to greet him,” she says. “All he has seen are the ravages of war. He trusts no one and rarely comes out of the corner of his room.”
This is the posture of the orphan. Withdrawn, suspicious, distant. How will you adapt your plan to meet him? You will pray a lot. You will hold back the balloons, maybe even the gifts initially. You will slower your pace, call his name softly, kneel down to eye level. You will try to encourage a moment of eye contact so he can see the love in your eyes. You will pray for God to give you some kind of tender gesture to build a thread of credibility. You know it’s going to be a slow process. Much time will pass before you will have a child who knows how to receive love. Normal life is quite far off.
Why do I have you imagine this scene? Because many of us will be called upon to care for someone severely wounded and/or in a condition where they can’t speak. For some, their life-story has been such that they feel they are only safe if they stay away from people. They have been tucked away behind a wall of mis-trust. Or, others are in ICU, in and out of a coma, on life support, and can’t speak. They may look at you now and then but there are no words. How comfortable will you be in their presence? The learned ways you use to reach everyone else will not be effective for this person. Cards, flowers, or a phone call will not do it.
It’s time to re-assess. Coming to sit with them, praying their story, respecting their fear and being willing to make slow progress, these are some of the things required. God will help you customize efforts to win trust and impact their heart. He knows how they are made, knows their story, and He is the only One who knows perfectly how to build a bridge. He excels with non-verbals. “I’ll pour robust well-being into her like a river. You’ll nurse at her breasts, nestle in her bosom, and be bounced on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I’ll comfort you.” Isaiah 66:12-13 These are all gestures that don’t require talking. Nestling, bouncing, nursing, comforting. There are times when words aren’t enough but God is not limited in love language. Nor are we. Though we may be initially uncomfortable, love carries us through the discomfort. God will show us how to do what so few are willing to do.
Some of your most powerful miracles with people didn’t involve words. Breathing on your disciples, urging Elisha to lay on the dead child of the Shunamite woman. I am willing to reach out and be unconventional for the sake of someone who needs You. Use me, Lord. Amen
GIVE THE GIFT OF PRAYER
The most valuable of all gifts is the gift of prayer but it is the promise of prayer for others that leaves something to be desired. ‘I’ll pray for you’ is often the quick go-to line when I need to make a quick exit. It’s the believer’s equivalent to, ‘Have a nice day!’ Does everyone who says, ‘I’ll pray for you’ actually do it or is it just a cliche?
The person who needs it would be very discouraged if they knew that many who promised to pray didn’t do it. It’s a good thing Jesus prays for us continually. We are never in a position where we have no one talking to the Father about us. Jesus sits at His Father’s side at this very moment and is praying for each of us with great detail, with sensitivity, and with divine knowledge.
How valuable is prayer? The night of Jesus’ arrest, He showed us. When He was preparing to say goodbye to His disciples for good, He broke into the longest prayer in the Bible. (John 17) It’s so weighty that I could spend years meditating on it and not scratch the surface. When my prayers sound like, “Jesus, please be near them and bless them”, I realize these are okay but at some point, there should be more content. I must be in the Word so that I have food from my own reservoir to give to others. Scripture fuels my prayers with substance and fire.
Guidelines are helpful. Here are a few from personal experience and from hanging around other intercessors.
Finally, I am often curious enough to ask the one who has asked me to pray for them, if they are also praying for themselves. It’s easy to peg someone else as the spiritual guru who will do what I’m too lazy to do for myself. I may pose a similar question to someone who continually asks me for advice. I’ll inquire, “What is God telling you about it?” Corrie Ten Boom quote ~ “Dear Jesus…how foolish of me to have called for human help when You are here.”
Lord, You know that effective prayer takes time. I give you the time I’ll spend praying today. How should I invest it? I’m a steward of my days and I need help knowing whose spiritual soil is tilled and ready. Amen
Isaiah said, “At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor. I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see.” You can relate, right? If you’ve been through a tragedy, you know how Isaiah felt. You think you must be dreaming and you’ll wake up to breathe a sigh of relief. The truth seems surreal. It leaves you staggered, confused, bewildered. You say to yourself, “This just can’t be true.”
I remember the morning my mother died. It came unexpectedly. I was visiting home for the weekend with my daughter, Jaime. The night before Mom died, we had enjoyed an evening where she had unexplainable energy. So much so ~ that we planned an outing for the next day. The following morning, I was standing at the stove making scrambled eggs. The english muffins were under the broiler, table was set, coffee was made, and Dad remarked how surprised he was that Mom had overslept. He offered to go check on her. I heard his footsteps come down the hall on his way back from her room and will never forget the look on his face as he said, “She’s gone.” Immediately, I felt lightheaded. My ears were ringing. I couldn’t think clearly and his words sounded distant. It took days, even weeks, for me to feel somewhat normal again. Such is the experience of living through a physical reaction to shock. God graciously made us this way because the truth of the moment is too heavy to internalize. He will allow it to come in waves, a little at a time, so that our body, heart, and mind can adjust to a new reality. I’m sure Dad was experiencing a similar fog.
I can forget this when I visit someone in a hospital after an accident or I remember how well I thought someone was doing at a memorial service. “They held up well,” I’ll say as I recount how they stood in a receiving line and greeted everyone without breaking down in tears. The truth was, they were operating beneath a shock system that would wear off long after the event was over. Later on, when they really needed me, I had gone on with my life. I had mistaken their initial composure for lack of need. No one escapes grief. No one is beyond needing others no matter how things may appear.
After a tragedy, be sure to reach out later on, three months later, even a year later. Send another card, bring a meal, pay another visit. Truth be told, the person may not even remember you being there in the first days of the crisis. How can you start your conversation? “I’ve been thinking of you so much. I know the months after an awful event can be harder than the first few weeks. The adjustment must be, at times, overwhelming.” This gives them freedom to agree and talk about it.
Joseph Bayly, an author, lost three of his seven children to leukemia. He wrote in his book, The View From a Hearse, this ~ “We experience the death of loved ones, not at the funeral, but when we come upon a pair of their old shoes.” Will you and I be there when future waves of grief come? God gives them the gift of a shock system initially but then needs to comfort them through the hands of His comforters. That’s us. We have our own personal Comforter inside to guide us.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
“Where are you?” It was the first question posed in the history of our world. God was the one was doing the asking. While a question is usually asked for the purpose of finding an answer, it was not true in this case. God sees all things and knows all things. He knew right where Adam and Eve were but perhaps they needed to admit they were hiding and why. God continued to ask questions on and off throughout the Old Testament. Seventy questions were posed to Job alone; heart wrenching questions that, in the end, brought perspective to his despair.
When Jesus lived here, He asked over three hundred questions but when others inquired of Him, He only answered a handful because a good number of questions were traps. Jesus’ asked someone a question for the purpose of self-revelation. There was something a person needed to discover about themselves by digging deeply.
Jesus asked Philip, while they looked out over a hillside dotted with hungry people, “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?” Would Philip answer with a statement of faith? “There’s no food here but that’s not a challenge for You, Lord!” Instead, he felt the stress of a problem too big to be humanly solved. Faith was absent. I also remember Jesus asking the cripple at the Pool of Siloam, “Do you want to be well?” To him, it must have sounded like a foolish question but it was one that reverberated with meaning in depths of his soul. Was he really ready to have his identity changed? Did he want to relate to others as someone independent rather than needy? Was he ready to give up the attention he was accustomed to?
When I am hurting, it’s easy to get stuck in my own head. The events of my life swirl round and round and hold me captive. “Are you having a good day today?” is unhelpful for it invites a one-word answer and does nothing to help me find any relief. I may need to talk but have no idea where to start. Most of the time, people are shy of someone who hurts. The darkness is intimidating and they feel the pressure of thinking they have to have answers. The real gift is expressing a love that is interested enough to ask the question. It’s often the only time someone who is afflicted is invited to say what desperately needs to be said, to admit what they have borne alone, and to reveal what has tormented them but has never before found words.
A good question is not one that can be answered with a simple yes or a no. It is one that opens the soul. i.e. How are you handling this? What’s the most difficult part of this journey? Most of us want, and need, to tell a part of our story to someone who loves us, someone safe and wise. Our experience is that few either care enough to ask or are not equipped with enough experience to know that heartfelt questions can be so extremely helpful.
Lord, help me discern the questions you might ask that would bring relief and spiritual breakthroughs. I am your servant. Amen
VALIDATE! DON’T HUMOR!
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:11-12
Jesus was a truth teller and Jesus didn’t sugar coat it. He told it the way it needed to be told. But He was Truth and He was also Grace so He knew perfectly how to marry the two. I can call myself a lover of truth but, then in situations where my gift of mercy goes askew, I sometimes tone the truth down so that it isn’t more painful than it has to be. In some cases, like in the following story with my mother, I could have easily invalidated what was true.
My mother had been battling cancer for more than a year. She was painfully thin. Nonetheless, on a weekend when our family was able to visit, she insisted on making the effort to go to church with us. My mother, not a complainer about anything and prone to suffer silently to a fault, surprised me when she blurted out in frustration. She had put on her favorite dress, looked at herself in the mirror, and said to me as I stood in the doorway, “Look at me! I’m a bag of bones in this dress.” I wanted so much to protest. “No, no, Mom. You look beautiful in the dress.” I caught myself before answering poorly. I said, “I’m sorry you don’t look like you want to look in the dress. These changes have to be horribly painful and I’m so sorry.”
A believer in the midst of a very painful journey usually has a clear vision of this world. What was once murky gray has become black and white. What is frivolous doesn’t appeal. What is most important becomes most precious. And in the process of seeing life more clearly than most everyone else, they make truthful statements about life, Christianity, people, and religion that are usually true. Their statements sound blunt and stark. Our first reaction is to protest, to soften it, thinking we are lessening the pain of what they’re vocalizing. However, in protesting, we are not helping. We are making it worse by accentuating their feelings of isolation. Even if the truth was said in anger, there are ways we can validate them without matching their angst. Not without prayerful wisdom though. Jesus will give us words that smooth their ragged edges with grace.
God values truth and I should value truth and affirm it when it is spoken. At times it will make me squirm. It will challenge the common everyday deception that stares me in the face that I don’t see yet because I haven’t walked in their shoes. Their statements will most often depict the hopelessness of this world, the futility of living life poorly, and can sound like the ‘last word’ of the day. But after listening, after offering empathy first before words, after giving a creative gift, and laying a foundation of true friendship, there will be a time for me to frame their truthful words with the ‘hope that lies before us.’
Lord, I don’t want to fill the air with my words. I want apples of gold to come forth – truth with grace, truth with mercy. Amen
NETWORK WITH OTHER SURVIVORS
Our healing is never just for us. “God comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affiliation with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort. II Corinthians 1:4-6
Paul, through every persecution he endured, found perspective and strength knowing that his suffering was more than just about Him. It was too know Jesus better but it was also to help others. The only way he, or I, can ever empathize with another person is to have gone through the same thing ourselves. Human beings are intuitive creatures and we know when someone is speaking to us beyond their ability to understand. The words sound hollow and the wisdom is usually trite.
If the best one to reach someone in pain is another who has survived the same pain, that should give me direction in knowing how to reach out to people I love with whom I can’t relate. If I have not experienced what they are enduring, there is someone not too far away who has. My role would be to network them. Introduce them. Plan a lunch or an afternoon just to hang out. The survivor will quickly discern the needs of the one who is currently in the fire.
Each of us suffers but we have never suffered in all the ways one can suffer. I don’t know how to relate to another mother who has a child with cancer. I don’t know how to reach out to parents who are grieving their grown children’s sexuality. I may not know how to truly empathize with someone who is surviving domestic violence. I know that my encouragement can only go so far. Knowing that, I ask God to do what only He can do by bringing someone to mind, to bring another child of God across my path who has endured a similar thing. The resource may not even be a flesh and blood person, but a book. God knows what they need.
For every kind of pain, there is a specific kind of comfort only God can fashion through the life of a saint who has walked this road before. People who haven’t been through pain and suffering don’t usually write books about pain and suffering! It would be a dry treatise and no help to anyone. To take this further, if you have been through something awful with your faith in tact, if you have dug deeply into Christ for the treasures of wisdom, you have an audience. Someone is waiting for you. Someone is praying that someone like you exists to help them. You can come to see the miraculous. What is that? To experience what it’s like to see something that has been so bitter to your soul take on bittersweet properties. Eventually, maybe even more sweet than bitter.
Network, network, network. There is someone out there who is the answer to someone else’s prayer. Maybe it’s you.
Bring your church together for purposes beyond what we’ve ever experienced. Amen