The Place for Help and Healing

How many friends do you have? It’s a surprisingly difficult question. After all, the categories of friendships are many: friends from childhood, college, work, church, online friends, even tweeting. While the number of friends listed on our social media accounts may be many, our true friends are actually very few.

How many of your friends know the real you? How many would know if you were struggling, really struggling? And to be honest, how many of them would you tell?

For many years, I went through seasons of depression all on my own. I wandered in the darkness, feeling isolated, helpless, and in complete despair. I often stood among the crowd at my church each Sunday, watching everyone fellowship, and feeling utterly alone. Hiding my thoughts and feelings inside, I felt great shame and guilt about the battle going on in my mind. Because if people really knew the horrible, dark, and frightening thoughts I had, they would surely reject me.

But then God brought a few friends in my life with whom I could be real, honest, and transparent. I told them my story, revealing the depths of pain I had endured. God used those friends to encourage and support me. They pointed me to the hope of the gospel. Over time, our relationship has become mutual. We share our burdens with one another, point each other to Christ, and walk alongside each other during the difficult trials of life.

Silent Pain

The sad truth is, not everyone has such friends in their church body. There are many hearts crying out in silent pain within the church. As we sit in our pews each Sunday, surrounded by painted-on smiles and neatly pressed clothes, inside many are weeping. The issues may vary—grief, worry, shame, depression, fear, even severe mental illness—but each one needs the love and encouragement of others in the body of Christ. God uses us in the body to build up, spur on, encourage, and bless one another (Romans 12, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25, 13:1). In fact, the church body ought to be a place where people find help and healing, not where we simply voice our social media status face to face, providing updates on where we had lunch that week and the funny thing our child did the other day.

It is important that we recognize the fact that there are hurting people sitting next to us in our pews. We need to look beneath the masks and casual statements to see the hearts of each other. Because we are related to one another through the blood of Christ, each of us has the Spirit living within us. When we go beneath the surface and speak life-affirming words to the heart of another, it stirs the Spirit within them. It triggers hope within their soul. The love and encouragement from one believer to another is not the same as the world gives, for it is empowered by the Spirit himself.

May our churches be a place where the definition of friendship means something more than what it does online. May God open our eyes and hearts to see those among us who are hurting. And perhaps you already know of someone who needs help. Maybe you’ve wanted to reach out and help but don’t know how. While by no means complete, this list provides a few ways you can love and encourage them.

1. Reach out: It may take time, but be intentional in letting that person know you care. Trust is something that has to be earned, but over time, they will open up and begin to share their burdens. Be sincere, genuine, and real.

2. Listen: Listen with ears of grace. Don’t be like Job’s friends who assumed they knew why Job was suffering. Enter their pain with them and listen. Don’t try to come up with solutions to their problems. You are not responsible to take away their pain or make their life better. You are there to encourage and point them to the One who does take away all pain and sorrow.

3. Pray: Don’t say, “I’m praying for you,” and then not do it. Ask how you can pray for them and then commit to doing it. Consider writing a gospel-centered prayer and send it to them. I’ve received written prayers from friends, and it gave me great encouragement. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom and grace to encourage them.

4. Speak the gospel: You won’t be able to solve their crisis or change their circumstances, but you can speak the hope of the gospel to their heart. We find true healing in the truths of the gospel. Remind them of who they are in Christ. Remind them of their standing before God, their inheritance, and what Christ has accomplished for them. Point them to the love their heavenly Father has for them, the very same love he has for the Son. And point them to the power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through them to live for Christ, despite their weakness. These gospel truths stand secure, no matter how strong the storm.

5. Check in: For some, the journey through pain is long and tedious. Stick it out with them. Check in often, even if they don’t respond. Send a card, an email, a text. Leave encouraging messages to let them know you care and are praying for them. God will use your efforts. You may not see immediate fruit, but God is at work and will use your attempts to reach out to them, for their good and his glory.

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  • T.Newbell

    This is great encouragement, Christina!

  • Sharon

    So true Christina. Thanks for sharing this, it resonates with my heart on so many levels.

  • Mark

    “When we go beneath the surface and speak life-affirming words to the heart of another, it stirs the Spirit within them.”

    One reality of how church should be done is that we are not surface-level believers who simply talk a good game. What is lost in this generation is a deep sense of genuine relationship building that isn’t afraid of stepping on toes and yet being really caring or loving. It truly is corporate worship to walk as a people and to take care of others, from the heart.

    The world tries to be real with their problems via an Internet portal, trying to gain approval to justify their behavior, and it is done in the safety of a message board or social media site. The life of the Christian among believers is that we are to be above and beyond in being transparent to others, face-to-face. When seen and heard from, souls connect in Christ. So when a believer or even a non-believer comes into the church and sees people aren’t trying to pose as good, moralistic people, and see genuine, real talk about triumphs and sorrows, they see that Christ is real.

  • Melissa Deming

    such a good word Christina, reminding us to be the type of believer Scripture admonishes us to be – building up one another with our words and works, stirring up love wherever we go.

  • Jessalyn Hutto

    Great encouragement Christina. We tend to feel as though friendships should come naturally, but as fallen creatures we struggle to selflessly connect with others who need us. Instead, we gravitate toward people we know will make us happy. This is a good reminder to seek out those who may not be asking for help, but need it.

  • Rose Anne Thornburg

    That was excellent! We have been missionaries in Spain for almost 40 years and one of the greatest blessings has been to see our church family grow in love for another and in sensitivity to the needs of those around them. I’ll certainly be sharing your article. Thank you so much!

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  • nive have spoken the truth so eloquently Christina.So good to remember like you said,”You won’t be able to solve their crisis or change their circumstances, but you can speak the hope of the gospel to their heart.”

  • Rick

    I’ll be sharing this with my small group this evening.

  • Karen Butler

    What a great exhortation, and such wonderful suggestions for cultivating safe places for hurting people. I am so thankful for the healthy church I belong to, and the gift of friendships I find in the women’s small group Bible study I belong to.

    Learning to follow up on my concerns for the struggling saints around me, as #4 describes, is the hardest challenge I face. God enabling me, I will be more faithful.

    Thanks for the good word, Christina!

  • keijo leppioja

    Joy and joy with me for today the gospel are to running around many the towns blessing and salvation are free in Jesus blood and I self will be voice of gospel and take home many prodigals son and daughter for will of the Father in that darkness time in worry for many hurting heart for sin,thanks and bless,keijo sweden

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