The phone rings; you hear sirens in the background. She is in great pain, or big trouble, or complete confusion. How should you respond?
In that crisis moment, when you feel completely ill-equipped and helpless, remember— she called you and there is a reason she did. You have something she needs right now. Chances are it is not expertise or some specific skill you’ve acquired. Chances are, she needs you. Yes, it would be wonderful to have all the right words and know what to do to improve the situation, but please understand that who you are is much more important.
She called you either because of your relationship to her, or because of the character she knows you have. It’s probably a combination of the two. Your relationship has been built over time—you have lived through other things together and now she’s asking you to be willing to live through this with her. Please be willing. Your character has been built in you through faith—you are more Christ-like than you realize, especially to her right now. You can bring some of the attributes of God with you as you care for her in this moment. Not only that, you carry the very Spirit of Holiness within you. Bring the Spirit into this dark and scary moment.
Here are four ways that your relationship and character can be a very real help to someone who is suffering.
1. Suffering isolates. Be there with her and let her know she is not alone. This is important in many ways. Concretely, you are important as a witness, perhaps as a support in making decisions, and to physically bring her a sense of comfort and security. Spiritually, you are much more. A moment of crisis can swallow a person whole. You are a connection to life and faith at this moment, when both may seem to be ebbing away. The power of presence is a God-attribute that you can embody in part, without knowing all the ways it is a help. Just be assured that your willingness to be there—involved in this person’s pain—is a significant act of love.
2. Suffering forgets. In moments of crisis, even people of faith have trouble remembering God. You are not her Savior but can be the lifeline to him. Hold her in one hand and grab on to Christ with the other—your presence with her connects her to the Rock of Ages. Be steady for her. She may need to borrow your faith. Pray in a way that brings peace into the chaos and makes God’s presence tangible.
3. Suffering hurts. Pain can be experienced on all levels of existence. It should be listened to, because it signals where the damage is. If her pain in this crisis is caused by physical injury, then medical personnel need to know what hurts. But once it has been attended to, you may be able to help bring her attention away from the pain and onto the presence of God. Talk or pray calmly but with simplicity so she can focus on what you are saying. Sometimes it can bring stability to a person to make eye contact. Invite that if it seems appropriate and helpful. But if her pain is primarily emotional, the best way to help is even more basic. Simply try to live through the agony of the moment together. Do not minimize or downplay the pain, but also do not accentuate it. Join her where she is. Put your arm around her if she’ll let you. Say very little except in prayer. Ask God for calm and comfort.
4. Suffering lingers. A crisis does not end when the flashing lights leave. Please do not disengage yet. She may need time to herself, but don’t leave her for too long. Check in on her and remind her you’re still there. Follow up days, weeks, and months later. Be a faithful friend that will bridge the events of life together and bring the richness of Christian communion to every joy and sorrow.
No special training needed
It is a great blessing to participate in someone else’s pain. This kind of ministry is very difficult, but brings a depth to life and faith and relationship that cannot be obtained any other way. You do not need special training. If you are the one she called, you have what you need. Go to her. Bring peace, stability, and a faith that reaches through her panic and into the eternal. You will truly have helped.
See also Ed Welch’s blog post, “Emergency Numbers“