Recently, Crossway took a survey of almost 15,000 people on the topic of my new book, Being There: How to Love Those Who are Hurting.
I thought the most astonishing number was that 25% of the survey respondents answered that they are currently caring for someone with a mental, emotional, and/or physical need on a long-term basis. These caretakers were spread almost evenly out among four categories of people they are helping—21% parent, 21% child, 19% spouse, and 17% friend.
The survey also suggested that there is not just one type of pain that our friends and family are suffering from. Mental, physical, and emotional pain were all noted in similar percentages. Many caregivers reported that their loved ones suffered from more than one of these types of suffering. There is often a connection between various types of suffering people go through. If one struggles physically they may also struggle emotionally at the same time. This dynamic can make the task for the caregiver all the more complicated and difficult.
We also learned from the survey that many of us are caring for hurting people for really long periods of time. 24% of the respondents said they’ve been caring for the same person for over ten years, and another 22% said over five years. The other half of the respondents said they are helping people walk through suffering in various circumstances for shorter periods of time. In other words, we all have people in our lives who are suffering. This is the main reason I wrote this book: to help equip people to love the hurting. It may be a spouse with depression, an aging and ill parent, a child with a disability, a fellow church member with cancer, or a neighbor with chronic pain. Pain is all around us—we are all caregivers.
Caretakers are lonely, discouraged, and in need of support and encouragement.
As I thought through the survey responses, the main point of application I came away with is that in our effort to care for those in pain, we also ought to remember those who pour out their lives as they care for the hurting. This matter was brought to the forefront in the various respondents' answers to the question “What do you feel is your biggest need as you serve those who are hurting?” The answers show that caretakers are lonely, discouraged, and in need of support and encouragement. These responses give us a good framework for how we can better help the “helpers.”
Here are three ways we can do that:
1. Understand the pain caretakers are going through.
It’s easy to forget about these people because we are focused on the one with the evident pain. I've seen this in my own life—while I've lost the use of much of my arms, my wife lost her husband with healthy arms. While I have a more visible disability, my wife and children carry a burden as well. Those who care for the hurting have lost something in the process. We need to take time to understand their pain and ask them heart-penetrating questions about their situation. One person wrote, “It's profoundly difficult for the caregiver as well. Everyone treated my husband as if he was the only one suffering. But we were one. Watching him disintegrate before my eyes felt like my body was falling off too.” Another wrote, “Sometimes you just need people to come alongside you and see how difficult life can be in these circumstances.”
2. Intentionally encourage the caretaker.
Friends or family who are suffering in the hospital might receive flowers. A friend struggling with depression may get a phone call. An aging dad might receive a gift. But how often does a caretaker get an encouraging card? Or a word of affirmation? Prayer on the phone? "Encouragement” was written over and over again to describe the caretaker’s greatest needs. Why not send a caretaker an email right now? Why not call them and pray for them over the phone tonight?
3. Practically assist the caretaker.
"Support” was listed more than any other way to help those “helping the hurting.” Caretakers are tired. One person wrote, “My greatest need is not being cared for myself. I give and give and give and never get. I'm beginning to feel depleted and exhausted.” Another person wrote, “I need to be ministered to and listened to. I need wise counsel and tangible advice at times—not just the words, ‘I'll pray for you.’ I need people to show up.” Better than just inviting your friend to “call you anytime they need help,” go ahead and take initiative to help. Find out what the needs are and get it done.
Caretakers need help, just like those who are hurting need help. With God’s help, we can see their often invisible needs, and serve with the strength he provides.