Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lot of people hurt during the holiday season. We all act like it’s a time of great joy; and, it is for many of us, until some pull back the curtain.
Behind the curtain we find children being tossed back and forth between parents. Some can’t afford to buy presents. There is just no money to spare. Some are jobless. Some are sick. Some families are tragically dysfunctional. Some parents can’t stand their children. Some children can’t stand their parents--or siblings. Some feel lonely. Others are rejected.
Holidays can bring out pain. Could you give us some advice on how to heal some of the hurts we may encounter?
Alexander Maclaren, an old Scottish preacher, once said: “Please be kind to everyone you meet because everyone is fighting a battle.”
When I recite his quote I ask the folks in the congregation to look up down their row. “Everyone sitting around you is fighting a battle,” I say. Everyone gets quiet.
We are imperfect and we live with imperfect people in an imperfect world. Therefore, we will all experience some hurts.
Unfortunately, it’s my experience that most of us have no model for how to heal hurts.
I was sitting on the flight from Dallas to Orlando next to a woman in her late 20s. I introduced myself as I took my seat and she did the same. Shortly after takeoff I noticed that she was reading the “Celestine Prophecy” which is a book targeted to those in the Gen X generation who are on spiritual journeys.
I put down my book and said, “Oh, I see that you’re reading the ‘Celestine Prophecy’. That’s a book for Gen Xers who are on spiritual journeys, isn’t it?”
“How did you know that?”
“Oh, I like to keep up with what’s going on in the world.” Then, I decided to play a hunch card. “Reading that book, I would suppose that you are on a spiritual journey.” She smiled paused for me to continue. I decided to play another hunch card. “I would guess that you grew up in some sort of church environment and you got hurt badly. In fact you were hurt so badly that you left that church and headed out on your own spiritual journey.”
We sat quietly for several moments until she broke the silence, “You’re right. I did get hurt badly in church.”
After a while I said quietly, “Would you like to tell me what happened?”
“Several weeks ago my baby was born. The umbilical cord was twisted around her neck and she died before they could get her breathing. I wanted my baby to go to heaven, so I begged my priest to baptize my baby. But, he refused. He said that the Church didn’t baptize dead babies. I was devastated. I pleaded; but, still he refused. I decided that I’d never go back to that church again, and so, I guess you’re right, I’m on a spiritual journey.”
With a broken heart I looked over at her and spoke gently, “I’m so sorry. Did you have any idea that the baby was in trouble?”
“You must have felt so rejected. I suppose you’ve gone to that church since you were a child. I can’t imagine how much it hurt that in your greatest hour of need, they turned their backs on you. You must’ve felt so betrayed.”
“You must have been so angry at the priest. I can’t imagine what it was like when he looked at you and shook his head, ‘no.’”
“You had dreams didn’t you? You thought of playing with her on the playground, watching her grow up, college, and wedding; and in an instant, all of it was gone. I can’t imagine how much that hurt. I’m so sorry.
“You thought that you needed the prayer of the priest to get your child into Heaven. You are afraid that she might not make it. I can’t imagine how much that hurts.”
I tried to comfort her through some of the denial, shock, loss, grief and depression. I tried not to be in a hurry. She certainly was not. One thing is true about comfort: it can’t feel really good.
It’s about two hours from Dallas to Orlando. We talked for about an hour when she turned to me and said quietly, “I guess one of the reasons this hurts so much is because I’ve had four miscarriages.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. That just breaks my heart. Did you name them?” Yes, she had. She had named each of them. I decided that I’d comfort her four miscarriages worth of babies.
About 15 minutes before landing I said to her, “I know you’re wondering about whether or not your baby will go to heaven. I can tell you that she will. Jesus promised that the kingdom of heaven was open to children. King David lost a baby. God told him that his baby was in heaven and that he would see his baby again someday.”
So I said, “Your baby will be in heaven; we need to be certain that you’ll be there, too.”
The gospel is easy to share when the heart is broken and open. So, I talked with her about forgiveness of sin, and confession, and eternal life.
I led her to John 1:12 where John tells us that those who receive Christ will live forever with Christ in heaven. She would soon see her baby again, plus four others.
“Would you like to pray with me right now and receive Jesus into your life?”
You bet she would! And so she did.
Then, I surprised her. I told her about our first-born-child Jesse who died in our arms thirty-eight years ago. Not a week goes by that I don’t pray to Jesus and ask him to tell Jesse that I miss her and that I’m looking forward to having fellowship with her one day in heaven.
Three passages lay the foundation for God’s plan of healing hurts.
Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Only morning and comforting can heal hurts. We cannot do this alone.
In healing hurt, it’s important to realize that at least two people must be involved. The one who is mourning needs someone to do the comforting. Otherwise they mourn alone— and then they really hurt.
In my story about the Orlando girl, I was showing you some of the tools that I use in comforting one who is hurting. Notice that both my heart and my attitude are filled with compassion. Notice that I ask rhetorical questions which are designed open them up to receive comfort. I was certain to use healing words as well as deeply emotional words to help them mourn and facilitate their healing.
We might say things like: “My heart is aching as you share your story.” Or, “It hurts me to know that you experienced such pain.” Or, “I’m sorry that you felt such rejection and abandonment.”
Unfortunately, our culture knows very little about comfort. We deal with hurting and mourning people all the time. Unfortunately, too often we have no idea how to help them.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
There is a time for logic and reasons and encouragement and instruction, but those things come later—long after the process of mourning and comforting is well in place
I like to meet people and ask them, “What’s the best day that you’ve ever had?” No one has ever turned me down for an answer. People like to talk about the best day that they ever had. Then, on the basis of Romans 12:15a, I rejoice with them and get excited about the good day they had.
Next, I ask them what is the worst day that they ever had. No one has ever failed to answer my question. Most people like to talk about their hurts. Then, on the basis of Romans 12:15b I mourn with them over their hurt.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to share their hurt with an almost stranger. Romans 12:15 is a simple model for opening the door to someone’s heart to bring healing and occasionally even to sharing the gospel.
So, one day I met Robert on the first tee. As we started walking down the fairway, I asked him what was the best that he ever had. He thought for a moment, and replied, “Well, I guess it was the day that my son was born.” So I spent some time rejoicing with him about how great it is to have a new baby in the house.
Four holes later, after we teed off and were walking down the fairway, I asked him, “What’s the worst day you ever had?”
He thought several moments and then replied, “Well, I guess it was the day my son was born. We had used a midwife instead of going to the hospital and our son had some problems at birth. His legs were damaged and have never worked well.”
Now on the basis of Romans 12:15b it was time to mourn. We never made it to the fourth green. We talked in the woods while several group passed us by. When we finished the round Robert was further along in his healing, and I had a new friend.
In his sermon about Job and his comforters, Chuck Swindoll shared several thoughts about comforting that I’d like to pass on to you.
Comforters care enough to come uninvited.
If a friend has a heart attack, it’s not long before you’re down at the hospital. You don’t wait for an invitation.
No one needed to send a message to Job’s comforters. As soon as his three Comforters heard about his suffering and anguish, they came.
Comforters listen carefully so they can minister to the emotions and not react to the words.
You have to learn to listen.
This reminds me of the story:
A man asked his wife, “If you could have anything in the world for one day, what would you want?”
She said with a smile, “Well, I’d love to be six again.”
Early the next morning, the morning of her birthday, he got her up and off they went to a local theme park. What a day. He put her on every ride in the park—the death slide, the screaming loop, the wall of fear—everything that was—five hours later she staggered out of the theme park. Her head was reeling, her stomach was upside down.
It’s off next to MacDonalds. He ordered her 2 Big Macs along with extra fries and thick chocolate shake.
Then off to an animated movie, the latest Hollywood blockbuster. They ate hot dogs, and popcorn, and M&Ms and Pepsis. It was a fabulous 6-year-old adventure.
Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed. He leaned over and lovingly asked, “Well dear, how did you like being six again?”
One eye opened, she said, “Well, actually, I meant my dress size.”
Most people miss seeing the real needs by miles. They come as if hurting people need sermons and condemnation and illustrations and philosophical thoughts and examples from nature.
Job said, “Can’t you just be here with me and say, “You’re sorry,” as I try to survive.
Comforters openly express the depth of their feelings.
Think about the nurse who comes to take care of you in the hospital. Is she going to say, “How are you? Tell me, I want to feel deeply with you.”
Are you kidding? She says, “Bend over,” and gives you an injection. Friends don’t give each other shots.
Job’s comforters threw dust on their heads – an ancient expression of grief. They sat down in the dirt because Job was in the dirt.
Comforters are not turned off by distasteful sights.
Job’s friends were aghast when they saw him. They didn’t recognize him. The old homestead was gone. The servants and animals were gone. The graveyard was full.
The comforters went to the dump. Job had no hair and his robe was torn and he was sitting there with dung burning near him and dogs nearby and garbage around, and they wept.
Comforters understand, so they say very little.
Mr. Green died. He was the 85 year old chief deacon of the small church that I pastored while in college. This would be my first funeral. I went early to Mrs. Green’s house to be there before the mourners began coming. I sat in a corner recliner and said not a word. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing all day. I felt so awkward and out of place. I wanted to leave; however, I felt it was my pastoral duty to stay.
Finally, it was time to go. As she hugged me goodbye, Mrs. Green whispered in my ear, “You’ll never know how much it meant to me for you to be here all day. I thought to myself, “What a great lesson, sometimes just being there is more than enough.
Sometimes silence is the best comforter.
I’ve decided that we’ve done it right when they hate to see us go.
Now we know what to do when we see hurt. Hurting people find healing and comfort.
Well, Jennifer, I hope you find this response helpful.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.