I’m a pretty sensitive person, so when I see someone suffering, their pain is very tangible to me — and I really, really want to help.
I don’t have a problem feeling empathetic or sympathetic.
I don’t have a problem feeling anything at all — I can pretty much feel everything, actually.
My problem, on the other hand, sometimes comes down to navigating through those feelings — moving from feeling into action.
I struggle with what to say to someone in a crisis, how to reach out and let them know I’m sorry they’re suffering, that I want to be there for them, and help them get through it.
I’m way past thinking, “Can I help this person?” because I know the answer is: yes.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
So now, I think, “What can I do right now to help this person?”
And my mind often goes blank.
I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Sometimes, I’m just silenced by their suffering, which is so raw & which makes them so vulnerable.
Maybe it’s because I don’t see that very often in our society — where everyone seems so put together, with everything in its rightful place.
Maybe it’s because most people don’t know how to communicate that they’re suffering — to begin with, let alone how to cope with others suffering.
Maybe it’s because we’re not taught to share our suffering, in fear that it may make us seem weak.
Maybe it’s because I can actually relate to that suffering, myself…
Either way, I really struggle with my words when I’m faced with someone who I know is suffering.
So I found this article very helpful; It’s a list of things people with chronic pain or illness do want to hear (as opposed to this list here, of things they don’t want to hear). And speaking from experience, as I deal with my own chronic illness, this list is pretty close to perfect — but you’ll see I add my own twist later on.
Now, I don’t think that this list only applies to people who are sick — I think it can very well apply to many more people who are suffering in one way or another, if you just tweek each of them a bit.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of them (in bold). For further explanation of each one, you can read the entire article here.
“You look so good, but how are you really feeling?”
“I’m going to the grocery store, can I pick anything up for you?”
“It must be hard to be sick and in pain all the time,” or “I imagine it’s a daily grind to have to pace yourself so carefully.”
“How are you holding up? Do we need to stop visiting so you can rest?”
“Don’t feel bad if you have to cancel our plans at the last minute. I’ll understand.”
“Would you like to hear about this crazy adventure I had yesterday?”
“I hope you’re as well as possible.”
This very last one — saying, “I hope you’re as well as possible,” means so much to me. One of my good friends has said it a few times to me — in a text here or there. When she acknowledges that I’m suffering in such a compassionate way — acknowledging the fact that there are many days I’m not feeling well, and wishes me the best that day, I feel like the burden of being sick is so much lighter — that I don’t have to explain to her that some days, I just don’t feel well. She gets it.
And if you think about it, this is something we can pretty much say to everyone — hoping that they’re as well as possible, praying for that for them, because everybody has their share of stresses & sorrows. Everyone will have their downs as well as their ups.
Now, there are a few things, in my opinion, missing from that list above. Mainly, the God factor 🙂 of suffering.
So, I’d like to add some of my own ideas to that list of what you can say to someone who is suffering:
+ I am so sorry you’re suffering. Can I pray for you? Let’s pray together right now.
+ I see that you’re suffering. I see how hard it is for you. I am so sorry. I am here for you. How can I help? I’d love to do _____ or _____ for you.
+ Your pain and suffering is not meaningless. It is unitive. I see how it brings you closer to God. Still, I am so sorry you are going through this. I wish I could do something to make you feel better.
+ I am so sorry you are enduring this. I know it may not feel like it right now, but I just want to remind you that God loves you and so do I. Let me be here for you while you get through this.
+ You are not wasting away here. I imagine it might feel like that, but you’re not. God is inviting you to share in His cross, and in the work of redeeming the human race. I wish you didn’t have to go through this…
And a few caveats about these next couple of points… While some of these messages may be true, they can be hurtful if they are the first thing someone who is suffering hears from you. I prayerfully suggest letting someone know you see them, that you see they are suffering, and how hard things are for them — and offering to pray, and to help, before reminding them of these. They may not even need these as a reminder. But… here they are, still. I personally found these helpful when I was suffering the most:
+ If we are permitted to suffer, it is a special call. “It is a call to a deeper, more heroic love, a choice to walk with Jesus, to truly grasp the ultimate meaning of life, which is eternal happiness in Heaven.” (Jeannie Ewing)
+ There is meaning in your suffering. There is beauty in it. There is redemption in it. Give it to Him, so He can use it.
+ The greater your suffering, the greater your reward will be… St. Ignatius of Loyola said if God sends you many sufferings, “It is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.”
+ I cannot imagine the pain you are enduring, but I do imagine that there is great power of God that is within this cross. Will you please pray for me?
This very last point is something that may not make a lot of sense at first glance. To ask someone who is suffering for prayers seems a little backwards — at first, doesn’t it?
But it’s something I’ve learned from Saint John Paul II — that “the weak are a source of strength.” And no one’s prayers are more powerful than the prayers of somebody who suffers.
Suffering is a mystery, but so is the Cross; and in both, we can find meaning, purpose, and peace.
Saint John Paul II said, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”
So, I hope you are as well as possible, and if you are suffering, I hope & pray that God will give you the strength to get through each day — as He promises. I also hope you will pray for me, too, because I know your prayers are powerful. 🙂
photo credit: donnierayjones