The mere fact that I struggled with how to title this is a little pathetic because I am the one that has been hurting and, well, that just sounds entirely too vulnerable to say.
I went back and forth with words like “exhausted”, “lonely”, “struggling” … and settled on hurting – but any could fit.
See, the month of August found Paul away from our family for almost the entire month with military responsibilities. A family unit isn’t meant to be separated in such a manner, and it is just hard.
It isn’t the first time – and every single time he has gone away it has been a struggle for myself and the boys; exhaustion, high stress, loneliness.
But what is new is this time we asked people to pray for us before he left. And while it seems so obvious to request prayer from our church family, sometimes it is easy to overlook your own needs until you’re neck deep and truly struggling and so lost.
Friends and family rallied around us. We felt their prayers and their tangible acts of love were a great encouragement. And because I have been the benefactor of a local body of Christians performing practical acts of love and encouragement I wanted to share some ideas of practical ways Christians can encourage hurting Christians – because it takes all kinds. And each act was meaningful to me.
It’s not a list that one person accomplished – it’s what the body of Christ did together.
In no order:
1. Take an interest in the children. The fact is; children feel things deeply and yet lack the maturity to understand stress. Asking the children how they are doing, taking them out for icecream or dinner, or any other form of showing love and concern goes a long way to settle a child and encourage the parent. Different parents will have different levels of comfortableness with your involvement with their children – be sensitive to that.
2. Ask what you can specifically be praying for. Certainly, you know the general hardship – but asking specifically what you can be praying for is a very personal way to encourage. And sometimes (often!) there are deeper issues that just aren’t right to be shared in a more public forum.
3. Text to say you’ve been praying. From my experience, these messages of encouragement have always come at the moments I most need them.
4. Text to check in on how they are doing. A follow up to earlier conversations, or just to check in on how things are going right then.
5. Welcome them into your home. Invite them to join you for a laid back family dinner, and sweep them into your family culture. Nothing formal, no showy-ness – just them being invited into your life.
6. Send a thoughtful gift. A sweet treat, a box of tea, a new book – something you enjoy that you want to share, or something you know the recipient enjoys – little gifts are a tangible reminder of someone’s love and concern.
7. Share a verse that has been meaningful or encouraging.
8. Call to check in. A little more personal (and time consuming!) than a text.
9. Be specific in your offer to help. It is very hard to take someone up on their general, albeit sincere, “Let me know if I can do anything.” But beyond that, your very specific offers of help could very well be a direct answer to prayer. I had a dental appointment scheduled for a Tuesday, an appointment that I knew would be a minimum of three hours. No one knew, and I had planned on taking the boys with me and just settling them down in the room with me. It was a bit unsettling to me to consider doing that, but didn’t want to put anyone out by asking them to watch the boys – so I prayed that God would undertake and help me figure out what to do. On Sunday a friend texted and offered to keep the boys for a few hours on Tuesday. She had no idea about the appointment – she was just sweetly offering a little “me-time”. God directly provided through a dear friends very specific offer to help.
It’s easy, is it not, to down play what we can offer? To feel like our part isn’t enough or isn’t necessary.
As a body, we act together for the glory of God. Each of us a stitch in the great tapestry – interwoven with the lives of others.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thess 5:11
We can through our good works cause others to think that we are wonderful, or that He is wonderful. My brothers and sisters in Christ continually pointed me to the beauty of our great God through their good works and acts of service – which is ultimately the point of encouraging one another; to magnify Him and refocus our attention from our troubles to Him.