Encouragement Tips from Pat – August 2019

Posted on 08/30/19 by Paulette Fewell

As I grew up in church, I learned how to pray. The strange thing is that when I was developing my prayer life as a young man, it was by trying to sound like the grown men praying. The result: I became a prayer parrot! I said the things that men said in church when they prayed. It surely sounded a little strange when, as a young teen, I prayed things like: “Guide, guard and direct us until we meet again.”

I think that a lot of us who grew up in a church also learned what to say when bad things happened to people or when you go to a funeral home for a visitation. The problem is that some of us have not revised those ideas and discovered a more personal approach to loving people as they suffer.

Over the past few months, Pat has spoken at some local churches about how to encourage people. Over the years, she has learned to follow the Spirit’s lead and to speak and act with empathic love. She is an effective speaker for two reasons: (1) she is passionate about and experienced in ministering to people struggling with faith when life becomes difficult, and (2) she recognizes that there is no perfect thing to say or do in such situations.

Through her experiences and with faithful reflection, she has learned some things to avoid saying and doing. She follows a guiding principle: do not allow your involvement to make things worse for people. Below are a few of her suggestions that might be helpful as you develop your personal style of encouraging people in crisis.

Things to Remember:

  • A compassionate silence is always better than meaningless words. Don’t feel the need to fill the gaps in conversation.  You are not there to fix the problem.  You are there to love, listen, pray, and support.
  • Acknowledge the pain the person is feeling. Don’t try to make them feel better.  Don’t respond to their pain with a sentence that begins with “At least….”
  • If you are willing to support them prayerfully over time and reach out to them in service, let them know and then follow through (if not, do not offer to be there for them or to pray for them).
  • Share something that you would like to do for them. Suggest bringing food, running errands, helping with a chore at their home that needs attention (be specific).
  • Reach out to them after the intensity of the crisis. Meet for coffee or lunch when things calm down. Follow up with an invitation and show up ready to listen.
  • Make a calendar of anniversaries of deaths, births, etc. and send a note every month or at the one-year mark.
  • Form a prayer group and let that person know they are being prayed for. And keep in touch about how the group can pray specifically as things change over time.

Avoid Saying:

  • “Just think positive—it could have been worse.”
  • “This is going to make you so strong!”
  • “This will go away” or “This will get better soon”.
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Just think positively.”
  • “This is a terrible hospital”, or, “I do not like your doctor.”
  • “Let me tell you the bad things that happened to my friend when they were diagnosed with that!”
  • “God was ready for your loved one.”
  • “God must have needed another angel.”
  • “At least they lived a long life.”

I recently performed an informal graveside service at a family cemetery. Before, during, and after the service people shared stories and feelings. I spent a lot of time listening to people in their grief. There were things that people said that I sometimes thought to myself, “I wish they had not said that.” I kept silent until two of the children both shared how almost 40 years ago, when their father had died, well intentioned Christians had said things like, “The Lord must have needed your dad in heaven.” After all those years, those words still haunted those two children. They separately shared how they still felt hurt and angry, not just towards those who had spoken the words but at God for needing their dad more than they did. I apologized that such words had been spoken and then spent time listening to their old and new grief.

I keep thinking that if more of us were willing to say less and to be a loving presence in a crisis, perhaps the power of love and genuine concern would help ease the pain of suffering and God would be glorified.

We need to be reflective about passing along the things we learned growing up. We need to put ourselves into the other person’s place and consider how things would sound or feel. That might change our minds and our behavior in a moment of opportunity!

If you think that Pat speaking at your church or to a group of your friends would be helpful to encourage other encouragers, please let us know.

 We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. I have enclosed a card for your convenience if you would like to help us this month. It makes a difference.

 

Save the Date!  Our 2019 Evening of Encouragement will be held on Tuesday, October 15.  Your invitation will be coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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