Last month, 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. In a previous article, I responded to the survey results as I wrote about how we can love those “who help the hurting.” In this article, I want to focus on the emotions we often feel when caring for the hurting.
The Most Common Response
Respondents were asked, “What are the most common emotions that you have experienced while caring for a hurting person?" Several different words were chosen to describe those feelings. Anger, sadness, worry, helplessness, love, and weariness were all chosen somewhat regularly. The emotion that was chosen most often (by far) was frustration. In fact, even for those surveyed who are not currently caring for the hurting, but have in the past—their most common response to that question was also frustration (50%).
Why is this? A helpful hint might be in two other emotions that were not far behind in the survey. Respondents also reported that weariness and helplessness were a part of their regular emotions when caring for the hurting. These feelings of being tired and helpless can lead to frustration. We feel like there is nothing we can do to heal the person or even make them feel better. We want to fix things, but none of our remedies or encouragements seem to make a dent in their pain. We just want it to go away, but it never does. Where do we go from here?
Our Only Hope
It’s easy to get exhausted and emotionally drained helping the hurting. The trial doesn’t just effect the one hurting but all those around them. Day in and day out, it’s the same thing. Help them with this or that, run this errand, take care of this need. The need for help never seems to end. Pretty soon we find ourselves with nothing left to give.
“Maintaining my daily devotional life is critical; it is out of the overflow of my relationship with Christ that I am empowered to effectively enter into the pain and brokenness of others.”
What do we do? One respondent to the survey wrote “Maintaining my daily devotional life is critical; it is out of the overflow of my relationship with Christ that I am empowered to effectively enter into the pain and brokenness of others.” This person has the right perspective. He’s really just saying what Jesus says to us in John 15:4:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
When that which is abiding draws from that which supports it, its life is sustained. Similarly, unless we are abiding in Christ, we cannot be effective at loving others. Your strength to care for the hurting comes directly from Christ. You have no hope to truly help the hurting if you are disconnected from Christ, the vine. If you’re not abiding in Christ then your ministry to the hurting is empty. You are like a dry sponge without an ounce of hope to squeeze out to another. You have to walk with God in order to help those who are hurting walk closer with God.
Christian friend, if you don’t have the strength to love the hurting (you won’t on your own), trying harder is not the trick. If you are constantly getting frustrated in your service to those who need your help, girding up your loins and saying, “I don’t want to feel this way,” won’t be enough to root out these feelings.
A New Affection
In his famous sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers writes:
The heart is so constituted that the only way to dispossess it of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one. What you need to drive out an old passion is a new passion—a greater passion. What you need is an over-mastering positive passion.
Friend, if you are frustrated in your service, the first thing you need is Jesus. Jesus is better than anything our hearts could possibly attach themselves to.
We must remember to love those who are hurting, not because they’ve done anything for us, but because of what Jesus has already done for us. You will get the strength to help the hurting only when you understand what God has done for you in the gospel.
Because of God’s unconditional love for us through his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, we can go forward and offer unconditional love to others. Even in the difficult times, as believers we are armed with the Spirit of God, reminded of the promises of God, and encouraged by the love of God. Our cure for frustration in our service is to lean on Jesus, who is our security and strength.