This is an old post. But I have been recently helping some people who reminded me of it. Dealing with people who are hurting is part of the Christian life because it is life. We need to do this well. Unfortunately, too often we don’t. I leave the post as I wrote it better than three years ago.
In conclusion to this series of posts on what I have been learning about how to (and how not to) walk with people who are deep in the valley of suffering, I want to focus on this thought: when someone shares with you that they are in a great darkness of soul, I have been learning that there are some things you should just not say, no matter how true they may be. In a way, I guess this might well be an expansion on the need for discretion.
Often times, when we meet with people who are dealing with serious pain (i.e., divorce, abuse, a friend who committed suicide, a son who died from drug addiction, rape, addiction to alcohol, drugs, porn, etc…), we (especially we pastors and particularly us Reformed pastors) are tempted to respond by delivering loads of truth instead of loads of grace.
“But isn’t the truth good? Don’t they need to hear it?” Yes it is. And yes they do. But what truth do they need at that moment? It may well not be the truth you are thinking of sharing! I don’t know about you, but when someone comes up to me and says, “I need to tell you something in Christian love,” what follows is usually neither Christian nor loving! The truth is, we can do a lot of damage in the name of “truth.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV),
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Often we Christians run right to verse 6, Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, and assume the loving thing to do is always to highlight and expose sin, bad theology, and bad habits that may have led to or be adding to the pain the person is experiencing.
I submit that in light of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, if the “truth” you intend to share does not exhibit God’s patience and kindness, it isn’t loving to share it. If the “truth” you want to share comes from pride in your own spirituality, it isn’t loving to share it. If it dishonors them instead of encouraging and respecting them as God’s son or daughter, or at least as a man or woman made in His image, it isn’t loving to share it. If it is born out of the response of a quick anger, it isn’t loving to share it. If it reaches back into the past and rehashes past mistakes, sins, or poor choices all over again, it isn’t loving to share it. If it intends to hurt them (i.e., delights in evil), it isn’t loving to share it. If it is not from a motivation to protect them, to build trust, and to increase their hope in God, it isn’t loving to share it. And if it isn’t loving, you should not say it, no matter how true it is (or you think it is). Oswald Chambers was right when he said,
The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding.
If we correctly understand the truth of Scripture, we will be living it out ourselves; and if we would be people who are living out the truth, we will be full of grace, because that is what the truth teaches. 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) says, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. God does not jump on us every time we sin or do something stupid. We should give the same grace to others. Let God deal with the convicting of sin; that’s His job, not ours. Be willing to work with people where they are at, instead of insisting that they come up to where you are at (or think you are at!). Focus on being a gracious presence to them. You will be surprised how quickly the things you are concerned about get addressed when you focus on caring for them instead of fixing them.