Although they were grown men, I saw raw pain on their faces. Some were being real, wiping their tears. Others looked as if they were attempting to keep their emotions at bay. I glanced at one older man who put his head back, the look of agony washing over him. Never before had a room of tough-looking, tattooed inmates reminded me so much of lost and hurting little boys.
My heart ached for them. My husband had just shared a powerful illustration about a father’s love and acceptance. I knew most of these men had experienced the very opposite of this kind of love. Many of them had been abandoned by their dad or had been mistreated or abused by them.
So how do you even begin to reach out when you see these incredibly deep hurts?
Like our family, I’m sure you have many opportunities to reach out to hurting individuals. They’re all around us. Parents hurting because of wayward children. Couples going through an ugly and painful divorce. A husband or wife facing the horrible rejection of an unfaithful spouse. Loved ones struggling with serious health conditions. Children crying themselves to sleep from being neglected by a distant parent. Church leaders disrespected, attacked or falsely accused.
Raw pain. Hurting people. And so often we don’t know the best way to reach out to them. But in reality, we all hurt. In some way or another—at some time.
During some of my most intense and painful moments, I found that the people who comforted me the most weren’t those who knew exactly what to do or say, but they demonstrated that they cared and have exemplified many of the points I’m going to share.
When someone is hurting, they need to know their heart is being cared for, before we attempt to speak into what they should or should-not-be-doing in the situation. We shouldn’t try to change them. When a hurting person is drawn to the great Healer, they experience a level of healing. Then Jesus will do the changing in their life. Although we are all born with a sinful nature, we are also created in the image and likeness of God and we yearn to love and to be loved. (And this goes for each of the inmates that were in our prison service.)
However, when relating with a troubled person, be aware that hurting people hurt people. It’s important to realize this when working with those who have been intensely wounded. A hurting person may take advantage of you or lash out, even after you’ve sacrificially cared for them. And it hurts when they “bite” you in return.
My sister and I experienced a good example of this years ago when we were younger. My sister had rescued a wounded chipmunk from the deadly claws of a hungry cat.
But as she was cradling it and trying to nurse it back to health, the injured creature suddenly whipped around and sank it’s teeth deep into my sister’s hand. My poor sis started dancing and screaming in pain, frantically attempting to dislodge her hand from it’s strong grip. But that hideous little monster wouldn’t let go! It wasn’t until I nearly choked it to death that it finally released and took off— scurrying up the tree. Needless to say, my sister’s compassion for this critter had instantly vanished. She wanted to sic the cat after it now! Like the chipmunk, sometimes injured people lash out at the very ones trying to help them. So while reaching out, be careful not to jeopardize the well being of yourself or of those close to you. But with that said, hopefully these couple thoughts will be helpful to you when reaching out to someone who’s hurting.
1. Allow them to express their emotions of anger, fear, frustration, and bitterness. You may want to withdraw from these negative emotions, but God’s grace will help you to patiently love them instead and look beyond their reactions. They’re only able to begin the healing process once they’ve been able to identify these feelings.
2. Try to understand what a person is feeling rather than attempting to fix their problems. No one likes going to a medical doctor who is preoccupied with telling you what you need before taking the time to listen to your symptoms. The same is true in regards to someone’s emotions. Listen to them.
3. Don’t be too quick to share your own struggles with a grieving individual. Yes, it may help them to realize you can relate to a certain extent, but sometimes they just need a listening ear and aren’t quite capable yet to hear another person’s journey…Especially when they’re facing an intensely painful moment in their lives.
4. Help to break the feelings of false responsibility and guilt. It’s common for a wounded person to carry the false responsibility for the wrong that happened. You will be a tremendous help to them if you can assist them in seeing the false responsibility they’ve been claiming. Often they’ll be able to take great strides in finding healing after they’re able to break free from these lies.
No person is the same. So not everyone will feel the same way when they’re facing hurt. Each circumstance is different, and requires you listening to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, but the ideas will hopefully assist you in helping them.
You will never know the right words to say or the best techniques to use, but if they know you care…You have successfully touched and ministered to a hurting person.
~Cindy (For The Mullett Family)
“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40)