I was at a meeting last night, and we always open with personal updates. It is a distinct privilege in the family of God to carry one another’s burdens to the One who CAN and WILL do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. And so we do that for one another on this team I’m on. The remarkable thing is that we don’t have to be in the same room, the same city, the same part of the country, or even in the same country to do so!
Last night one sweet friend shared how her family had just returned from vacation, but it was a vacation distinguished by suffering. Her family had moved hours away from those they are closest to, and while visiting friends someone’s health took a turn for the worse. So my friend found herself next to that family’s side in the hospital for days at a time during her vacation. The entire family was called in, the prognosis was so bad. So there they stood, sat, perched – wherever there was space in the hospital room – active in the ministry of presence (simply being present and available for someone who is suffering). To God’s glory, their friend’s health improved and he was released from the hospital, although his body will continue to battle him until the end.
And then my friends came home. Hours and hours away from being present with the ones they love so dearly, with hearts full of ache and joy and sadness and wonder as they witness this battle for life. This is when long distance hurts.
I have lived long distance from family and friends for a great portion of my life, and I have to say that the hurting never diminishes with the miles or the oceans between you and your suffering loved one. I have to also say that the ministry of presence also never diminishes, even if you can’t physically hold someone’s hand or hold them as they sob. So I thought this morning, maybe I should write down some practical ideas for those of us that do live long distance from love ones – especially loved ones that are hurting.
Don’t say much, but say something.
We left to live overseas for almost a decade. Right before we left the three year old daughter of very close friends was diagnosed with cancer. We were there, in the hospital with our friends, when they received the diagnosis. And then we left. We were physically absent from their side as they struggled through treatment and lifestyle changes and huge questions about life and God. We were still physically absent when their precious little girl received the celebratory news that she was a survivor! And… We were still oceans apart when their youngest son died in a tragic car accident and they grappled with overwhelming grief and loss.
At the time, all I could think of to say was, “Oh, honey…” That was the extent of how I reached out to my dear friend. Two words…
When we did come back to this side of the ocean, the first thing we did when we saw them, months later, was sit on their kitchen floor and listen to them and cry with them and hold each other. My friend told me eventually that those two words I’d written earlier were all she needed to hear. She knew, with those simple two words, that I was present with her in her grieving.
Ask for ideas
If you know someone who has gone through suffering (not someone who is currently suffering), ask them what was most meaningful and helpful. That will give you some ideas of what to say. For example, my husband’s coworker recently had to go through a painful labor and C-section to deliver a stillborn daughter the weekend she was supposed to have her baby shower. We have another friend that went through that same experience years before, so he asked, “What were some of the most meaningful things your coworkers did for you after you lost (he used the baby’s name here)?” She seemed to appreciate being asked, and gave him a really good answer – they sent cards of comfort even months after the baby passed away; they acknowledged that the grief would still be present and didn’t pretend that it had never happened.
Send words of encouragement
With social media today, it is incredibly easy to stay up-to-date with people’s lives. We can easily become social media stalkers without the person we’re following even being aware. However, if you want to be present with them, then find ways to let them know not only that you’re aware of what they are going through, but that you care. When you are thinking of them, let them know! Take the extra step to go beyond a digital thumbs up or even a comment in a post feed. Send them a personal message via an app (Viber, Whatsapp, Messenger, or text message). Write out a prayer in an e-mail as though you are holding their hand and sitting next to them. Put pen to paper and send them something in the mail – this is becoming so rare that when a person opens their mailbox to find something more than a bill or marketing ads it truly affects them.
Prayer has the inexplicable power of drawing people closer together. For example, if you have conflict with someone, start praying blessings for them and it will transform the conflict. So imagine what prayer can do for the ministry of presence when you’re physically absent. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s prompting in how you should pray, since you may not know the latest details of their situation. Please, please, please, also listen to the Spirit’s prompting if you should say something to them or not about how you’re praying. More times than not the Lord will direct your prayers for the purpose of interceding, not blabbing out loud. You can always let the person know that you are praying for them. Tell them specific times that you have prayed for them so they know you’re not just saying that.
Send care packages
I have been the recipient of care packages that arrived at just the right time, and the best have been filled with fluff stuff. What do I mean by that? Comfort food snacks, silly string cans, notes of encouragement, pretty push pins for a bulletin board, funky colored “practical” stuff (stapler, note book, post-it notes, pens). One time I received a coffee mug with two portions of Starbucks instant coffee, two spoons, and two chocolates for a vicarious coffee date with a girlfriend. These out-of-the-blue packages will certainly not alleviate the suffering; but they will bring a small smile for a short time and communicate clearly that you are present with them.
Ask if they want to talk, and then listen. Skype (and Face Time for you Apple users) is still a fantastic tool for that. Even if you’re time zones apart, if someone is willing to get up 3 hours early so that you can find time to talk, that solidifies the fact that you are important to them. You matter. For a person going through an intense situation, they may feel that they have overused their immediate network of supporters. The fact that you live so far away may actually be a blessing to them; they can talk freely without false shame or guilt monitoring their output.
And remember, you’re primary role is to listen and comfort. This is an intentional gift you can give someone. I had a friend who took some counseling classes to help equip the members of the church. She said the first three weeks they just had to practice listening to each other and not giving counsel. It was a skill that they had to be aware of and practice! Check in with God several times if you feel you need to depart wisdom or direction to your loved one to make sure He gives you the green light to do so! The most important part of being present is listening.
- Posted by hellobabs
- On March 22, 2018
- 0 Comment