Being There in the Mess
By Jessie Chew
While we’ve all made adjustments because of COVID-19, the impact of this pandemic has been devastating for some.
Livelihoods have been lost. Loved ones have gotten ill. Resources are spread incredibly thin. With no vaccine in sight, the present is tough and the future doesn’t look promising.
Chances are that you know someone who’s struggling because of COVID-19. Here are seven things you can do to show care and concern.
Understand the loss cycle
Crisis is experienced in stages. Understanding what happens helps us in interacting with the person at any given time.
Generally, the first stage is shock and disbelief. No matter what “advice” we want to give them, they will not be able to absorb it. In these stages, our presence and acts of care become more important than our words.
Over time, the person will cycle between denial and bargaining. Anger, shame, rejection, and frustration are common emotions that they will express. They will also ask questions such as “Why is this happening to me?” and “God, where are You?” This is the time to be a listening ear and, where appropriate, offer words of encouragement.
While we hope for their recovery to be quick and linear, the reality can be very different. Often, they go back and forth between stages. Give them time and space to work through their thoughts and emotions. If all things go well, the person will reach acceptance and begin to consider how to move forward.
Understand your role
Know the difference between helping versus walking a person through tough situations.
Don’t become a crutch, especially if they’re engaging in destructive behaviors. Helping can create the impression that such behavior is acceptable because there is always someone there to bail them out.
While God can miraculously bring people out of challenging situations, it is often His will for them to go through it. If so, be prepared to exercise grace and patience as you walk with them through the challenges.
Be there and show care
Where possible and if permitted, be with them. Don’t feel pressured to say anything. Your presence is enough to bring comfort and show that they are not alone.
Be on the lookout for opportunities to show care and concern, especially for immediate needs like running errands or getting something to eat. If you know their love language, speak it. Be the one to initiate; some might feel too ashamed or too shy to seek help.
Plan activities to help them take their mind off the situation. When you can’t meet, message or call them every few days to find out how they’re doing. Small acts of kindness show that there are people they can turn to for support.
Listen and empathize
When people go through a crisis, it’s normal to feel out of sorts. This is especially true for mature Christians who know in their minds that God is good and that they should trust God. Yet, they cannot help but question what’s happening to them.
Sometimes, all they need is a listening ear – an outlet for their frustrations and emotions. Let them air out their feelings without judgment. Create a safe environment for them to identify and process their emotions.
Seek to understand what they’re going through. Acknowledge their feelings and empathize with their suffering. Exercise discretion on how to give a word of encouragement or lead them in prayer.
Whatever we say, our words should not dismiss their pain or trivialize their circumstances. While their situation may not seem like a big deal to us, it is a big deal to them. The pain and suffering they are going through right now are real and raw.
Don’t be a problem-solver
It’s in our nature to be problem-solvers. When trouble strikes, it’s tempting to act on the urge to quote Scripture or spout clichés like “trust God” and “everything happens for a reason.”
Besides sounding superficial or dismissive, “quick fix” answers can do more harm than good because a person who’s in crisis has no way of putting this “advice” to action.
It’s also tempting to offer a comparative story in hopes that it will lift their spirits (“My colleague went through a situation like yours...”). This should be used with discretion. While useful in some situations, it can also backfire.
Every crisis is different. By sharing someone else’s experience, it creates the impression that we do not care about the person’s unique situation.
Moreover, those in a depressive state might believe that their situation is hopeless – they have enough trouble putting one foot in front of the other.
Remember that you don’t know (and might never know) all the facts. Instead, consider asking guiding questions that allow the person to process their emotions and come to their own conclusions: How do you feel now? What’s going on in your mind? Why do you feel this way?
If they are a Christian, help them find their hope and strength in God – to see where He is in the situation.
Advise with discretion. Share your thoughts only when they initiate counsel and if they appear receptive to hear what you have to say.
When a person is in the midst of a crisis, it’s easy to slip into a depressive state. With many negative thoughts swirling in their head, they can go down the path of believing that life has no purpose or meaning.
It’s fine if the person wants to seek solitude. Moments of grief, crying, or anger are also normal. But when they continue to isolate, their grief doesn’t improve, or their behavior they get worse, it might be time to intervene.
If there is concern that the person is unwilling (or unable) to move towards acceptance, seek the help of others (family, friends, counselors, spiritual leaders) who can better assess the situation and step in.
When we have done all we can, we must not forget the One who can do it all.
Prayer helps to focus back on God – to see where He is in the situation and how we can partner with Him in ministering to our friend.
Prayer also helps us surrender the situation back to Him – to acknowledge that He is in charge and that we need His help to turn things around.
Pray for discernment. Pray for breakthrough. But above all things, pray that God will be glorified as He turns this mess into His miracle.
My heartfelt appreciation to the Trinity Christian Centre pastors and TCA College lecturers interviewed for this article.
This article was originally published in Issue 04/2018 of the Trinitarian magazine.
Reflect & Respond
Is there someone you know who’s going through challenges because of COVID-19? How can you show care and concern to him/her?
Think of a time when God turned your mess into a miracle. Who can you share this testimony with?