When I was 31, former Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, asked me, “What would a young girl like you know about suffering?” He listened as I told him my experiences. After a short time he raised his hand to signal “stop” and said, “That’s enough. I believe you know what it is to hurt.”
Before I was 30 years old, I had watched my two brothers die of unexplainable brain damage, lost a baby mid-pregnancy, cared for my mother-in-law suffering from multiple sclerosis, moved my grandmother into my home while she battled melanoma, known financial hardship, moved across the continent, and saw my family’s beloved dog run over and killed.
During my difficult times, I discovered that most people didn’t know what to say or how to help me. As a child, other kids made fun of me, calling my brothers “retards” and “morons.” I kept these hurts inside because I didn’t want to add to my parents’ burden. No one ever knew how much I was hurting.
My experiences caused me to become sensitive to the feelings of friends and family who endure traumatic times in their own lives. I prayerfully send cards of concern, support, and encouragement to people experiencing a crisis. I have walked beside a dear friend and accompanied her to legal proceedings when her husband filed for divorce as she lost her battle to breast cancer. I fund-raised and organized the furnishing of a home for a family returning from the mission field because their son had brain cancer. I felt so helpless. I knew I couldn’t cure his cancer, but I could help them set up their home.
My family stood alongside our business partner as he cared for his wife while she was dying of liver cancer. I have helped organize and decorate memory boards to be on display at funerals. I have arranged the front of the church with family portraits and special items for memorial services. We have even purchased a memorial brick to honor our friend’s treasured pet that died.
As I look back through my years of raising children, I can see my oldest son on the roof of a cancer patient’s house sweeping the leaves off and cleaning her gutters. I remember my middle son assisting a multiple sclerosis patient participate in the Multiple Sclerosis Walk for Life in his grandmother’s memory. I can see my youngest son taking his video games to a hospitalized friend. As a family, we took our instruments and voices on the road numerous times and sang praises with friends in need. My children have known the heartaches of others and have reached out in unusual and caring ways to make a difference in their lives.
Are you prepared to help?
In Isaiah 40:1 (KJV) we are commanded, Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Yet somehow we are fearful and ill equipped to provide comfort. We aren’t comfortable with someone else’s pain. We’re even fearful it might “rub off on us” or that “we might get it” if we are around family and friends who are going through a crisis.
• Are you prepared to help others in their time of need?
• Do you know what to say and do to help?
• What are you doing to reach out and comfort others?
• How can you be an expression of God’s comfort and love?
The Art of Helping will give you the tools, the words, and the ways you can reach out and comfort your friends and family when they are walking a difficult path. It is filled with personal examples from people who have been there, have lived through the various crises, and willingly shared what friends said and did that were helpful. You will have an understanding of what it is like to face a wide variety of difficult times, how to pray with your friends, what to write in a card, and what you can do to make a difference in their lives. This book is divided into four sections:
• Personal Crisis
• Health Needs
• Continued Support
Once you have read the first portion of the book, including the Basic Do’s and Don’ts, feel free to look up the specific topic your friend is facing and read that portion. Each topic stands alone. As you have the opportunity to read other selections, you will find suggestions and information that may be valuable in other situations as well.
Writing this book was a daunting task. There is no way I could completely and adequately provide all the information you might need. I have, however, provided you a variety of ways to help others.
Find suggestions that work in your situation and ideas that you can do. Function within your own gifts. Do what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. Don’t use the excuse that you are not comfortable with heartache, sorrow, or pain. Do you think your friend who is walking the difficult path is comfortable? You need to be the expression of God’s comfort as you reach out to those who hurt. Use this book as a handbook and reference guide whenever someone you know faces a difficult time.
When I asked my uncle, Col. James Chapman, what he’d learned about comforting in his 30 years as an Air Force chaplain, he thought briefly and shared this experience.
“The most valuable lesson I learned happened just a few months after I had been ordained. I was in my twenties and assigned to Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas. Outside the base was a ramshackled community where the residents lived in old World War II temporary housing. A couple worked as caretakers. The husband was a handyman and his wife looked after the area. “One night another chaplain called me. ‘Get the police! There’s been a murder in Cammes Village.’ I’d never handled a murder before, and I drove out to the village not knowing what I’d do or say.
“When I arrived, I found that the son of this couple had brutally murdered his fiancée. Too stunned to do anything significant or dramatic, I stood by while the police handled details and the body was removed. I moved a few things, made some phone calls, and tried to calm the mother.
“When I left at midnight, I didn’t think I’d been very helpful or comforting. I felt guilty that I’d not known what to do, so I continued visiting this family as the weeks went on. Whenever I could, I’d drop in and say hello.
“As time passed, the son came to trial. It seemed inevitable that he’d be convicted of murder. I planned to sit with the family at the trial. But one day I received a phone call informing me that the son had killed himself. Although I knew I needed to be with the family, once again I felt totally inadequate to meet their needs. What could I say? What could I do?
“I spent time with the parents, listened to their thoughts and fears, and offered them my compassion. In the months that followed, I kept going to see the family, just sitting and visiting with them and letting them talk.
“One day, the father looked up and told me, ‘Chaplain, we want to thank you for the time you’ve spent with us and all that you’ve done for us. I don’t know how we’d have made it through all this if it hadn’t been for you.’
“I didn’t know I’d done anything that was either right or helpful. All I knew was that I kept going to see them. I was willing to sit with them and be part of their grief. This taught me very early in my ministerial career that it’s not important to have big speeches prepared or to do major things, but rather to be there.”
I challenge you to consider people in your community, your neighborhood, your church, or your workplace who are going through a difficult time. Commit to reach out, to show you care, be on hand to listen, support, and love them. Be an expression of God’s comfort and love. You may be the one light they have in the midst of a very dark and stormy sea.