Crises happen. They come in the form of a death, a diagnosis, a job loss, an accident, and so much more. They’re unexpected, no time to psych up for what comes next.
When someone else experiences a crisis, it’s easy to duck your head and say, “I’m not old/experienced enough to need to deal with this” or “Pastor will take care of them” or “I know they have family in the area”. You’re afraid of exacerbating the problem if you try to help. Talking to that person becomes awkward. Do I mention it? Do I not? Should I give her a hug? Oh, no, what do I do if she cries?
But the Bible encourages all of us – not just the pastor or the immediate family – to get involved in each other’s heartaches and pitch in.
- “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
- “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:10
- “But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” – Philippians 4:18
- “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth.” – II Thessalonians 1:3
You’re bearing their burden, not offering them a new backpack to carry it in.
Without over-sharing, I can say that I’ve had a lot of crises already in my life. Life hasn’t always been, humanly speaking, easy. So, drawing on the experiences of myself and a few others who have traveled this road, here are some practical ways to encourage people in a time of difficulty.
- Prayer + action. “I’m praying for you” in a generic Facebook post or in the church foyer is nice, but we know you’re likely to forget. Follow it up with action. One dear friend sets alarms on her cell phone throughout the day to pray for people. When my mother reached a crucial point in her illness, this friend added her to the “4pm list”. It was a small gesture, but incredibly meaningful. On particularly bad days, it’s an inexplicably comforting feeling to look at the clock and know that right now someone is praying for you.
- Charity = love wearing running shoes. In times of crisis, a person’s normally doable routine falters. Offer transportation to a doctor’s appointment or a hiring agency. Bring food – bonus points for disposable dishes that don’t need to be returned. Mow their lawn. Offer to clean, watch the kids, or shop for groceries. Some call this “Southern only” or “too personal”, but that’s not true at all; it’s a truly American tradition that doesn’t deserve to die because we’re embarrassed. Come on, this is America! Food equals comfort! A friend in the UK marveled at this custom, saying that “if you have problems here, maybe your family will help, but otherwise you’re on your own”. My response? “Remember that, next time you hear a joke about fat Americans.” 😉
- Help from a distance. So it’s an out-of-state relative or friend. If you can’t send food, send a note, a card, a (private!) social media message. What about a gift certificate to a restaurant, coffee shop, or gas station? Small gifts are great too (e.g., a Superman T-shirt or a bag of chocolate are packable and cheap to ship). It doesn’t have to be elaborate. All you’re doing is acknowledging that they exist. Sometimes that’s all the comfort needed, but it’s often neglected.
- Expect no answer. They may not answer the phone or respond to emails. They might not care to share details about the crisis. They may refuse offers of help. Please do not take it personally. It’s not easy to keep track of everyone else when you’re struggling just to stay afloat. But I promise you, they don’t ignore the gesture. They don’t think you’re pushing boundaries. And they certainly don’t forget.
- Educate yourself on the problem – but assume they have, too. It’s one thing to learn what you can do to help; it’s another to appoint yourself Chief Adviser. Nothing is worse than losing a job, then being told by a well-meaning friend that wearing yellow makes you more likable among your coworkers. Or discovering you have a terminal disease, and then getting a dozen emails about a dozen different cure-all herbs, procedures, or all-natural supplements. Instead, if you know the diagnosis, look up its possible symptoms so you understand more of what they’re facing. If they’ve lost a loved one, find out more about the person who passed away. If they’re looking for work, keep an ear open for potential employers. Just realize you’re bearing their burden, not offering them a new backpack to carry it in.
Catch Part 2 over here, about how not to respond in a crisis.