…because a story without a struggle isn’t a very good story. II Corinthians 4 says we can be outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly renewed every day while our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” We need to learn how to encourage one another in bracing ways, not in pitying ways that cause us to wallow in our problems.
It felt like life was uphill both ways, every day, when Gabe was in school. I know there have been many people who have scraped through much worse patches, but for us, it was pioneer work.
Remember that we were trying to be brave and uncomplaining. When we heard pity in someone’s remarks, it was a bit like knocking a stick against the back of knees already buckling. “I cannot imagine how you live under all that stress. I could never do it.” Already feeling sapped by circumstances, this only makes one feel worse. “What if they are right and we don’t make it? What if I have a nervous breakdown? What if the children are scarred for life?” Pity undermines the foundation of faith in the person who is being called to endure like a good soldier. I learned to flee from pitying conversations before they sucked me into a vortex of self-pity, seeing as I was already battling that tendency.
Everybody knows it isn’t helpful to claim that we know just how someone feels when we actually are only imagining to the best of our abilities how they must feel. So if you can’t truly empathize, and you shouldn’t just pity someone, what can you do for your friends in trouble?
What about that friend who is sick, or the one who lost his job, or the lady on bed rest in a difficult pregnancy? Sometimes there are financial difficulties or family troubles. Chances are, your friend is feeling swamped, and what she really needs is a sympathetic someone to toss a life-preserver. Life preservers are tangible, practical things. Your friend needs you to not just feel sorry for her, but to do something that assures her that you are with her, no matter how awful things may be.
Sympathy. It says, “I can tell that this is a rough time for you. I am praying for you to hang on by the grace of God. You will make it through this. And by the way, here is an Olive Garden gift card. We will watch the babies so you can get a relaxing evening.”
Sympathetic people bring a stash of good books or DVD’s when they visit an invalid. They say kindly things like, “I am sorry that you are feeling so crummy. How can we help you with your medical expenses?”
Sympathetic people clean houses and cook meals and do laundry that isn’t their problem. They cheer up children with a change of scenery so that the parents can catch their breath. They fix gift baskets of special goodies and mugs with messages of faith: “Relax. God is in charge.” They send texts of promises to cling to from God’s Word.
They organize grocery showers. Sometimes they just know that there is no meat in the freezer and they tell you that they have a lot more venison than they can eat, “Could you use some of it?”
What I described to you is what we experienced from our friends and family. Over and over someone came along to lift up the hands that hung down and strengthened our feeble knees. We wouldn’t have made it without them. Community is a beautiful, wonderful thing that infuses us with hope.
Above all, people in distress need faith. “It is really dark right now, and it doesn’t seem like God is hearing you, but the light still shines. I can see it and I will stand with you until you can see it too. I won’t leave you alone; you are never alone!”