Dave Furman has written a helpful little book for the church. “Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting” is just what it sounds like - a how-to manual to care for the hurting. It may seem like this is unnecessary for Christians, what with the Gospel and the indwelling Spirit and all that, but Dave has lived through suffering in the first person and he writes from the perspective of the sufferer and the one who has caused suffering in others.
There are two things about this book that are very unique. One is that the first chapter is addressed to the suffering that caregivers and those surrounding the sufferer experience. The first chapter, not the last. This is not what I expected when I picked up the book, but having lived through some of this stuff myself I am so glad to see this topic addressed. Too often the faithful spouses, family members and friends of the suffering never have their experiences addressed, but that is precisely where good Gospel balm can be applied:
“We must remember to love those who are hurting not because they’ve done anything for us, but because of what Jesus has already done for us. You will get the strength to help the hurting only when you understand what God has done for you in the gospel.” (35)
“Your strength to care for the hurting comes directly from Christ. You have no hope to truly help the hurting if you are disconnected from Christ, the vine.” (38)
“You must be much with Christ before you are anything for anybody else.” (40)
The second big surprise in the book was that, in my opinion, the second to last chapter was the best. (Side note: It is a pet peeve of mine that most popular Christian books seem to have two to five chapters of good material followed by endless prattle to fill publishing pagination requirements. Give me blank pages rather than empty thoughts!) This chapter is entitled, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Do These Things” and it is brilliant.
Dave gives a kind of Top Ten List of stupid things people do and say for the hurting. Most of these are not new, but it floors me how often these same old bad moves get played. I am thrilled to have a comprehensive list to hand out to the church, especially to new or aspiring elders, to say, “Don’t do these things and you are 80% of the way there to helping the suffering.”
I don’t want to make it sound like the book is a big gripe session. Dave writes in a winsome style mostly because he is a winsome guy. I feel like I am pretty attune to suffering and disability, but even after the third time I forgot Dave can’t shake hands when we greet each other, he still reminded me with a big grin and an invitation for a hug. That may not sound like much to you, but if you read the book you will see how the Lord has applied the Gospel to Dave’s life to move him from depression to love, and this in the context of authentic Christian friendships.
“People suffering with pain, depression, or loss will be pressed in ways they’ve never been pressed before. Naturally, their sin will show itself. It’s not an excuse, but they will need faithful friends who will be committed to the well-being of their souls by rebuking them in love. Help your friends know that they need to stay in community and that the cross has already criticized them more than anyone else can.” (109)
The fact is, the local church ought to be the one place where the suffering are loved. If we really grasp what Jesus endured for us, we will have an increasing capacity to love the troubled. Not that this is an easy thing. No one said anything about easy, but Jesus did talk a lot about death to self.
“When we serve those who are depressed, disabled, handicapped, and hurting, we’re going to have to serve without need for recognition or thanksgiving. Our giving of service cannot be dependent on the response we get. Distinctly Christian service must be humble and lowly, and we must aim to honor the Lord if we want to look like Jesus.” (74)
To sum it up, we need to learn to simply be there for our suffering friends. Essentially, we need to be Job’s three counsellors before they opened their mouths.
”…ask more questions and grow in your understanding of another’s pain rather than offering solutions for something you know very little about. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, ‘I’m sorry, can you help me better understand what you are going through?’ And then listen.” (113)
Oh, for more loving and careful listeners.
If you are suffering or know a sufferer, buy the book. It will help you and remind you of what is most important.