Learning to provide comfort and encouragement for those who are experiencing dark days can be challenging. We are told that the “ministry of presence” (just being there) for others is what they need . . . but how does that work, practically?
Whether as a church leader, parent, spouse, friend, or in any role serving others, we all could use simple tips on how to have a ministry of presence and comfort.
As I have coached hundreds of individuals and families through distress, here are five principle tips I keep in mind.
1. Be Present for the Growth Process vs. The Fix It
Supporting anyone in this journey is about patience for the process, not pushing to achieve everything in a five-, seven-, or twelve-step process. Steps are principles of growth and healing for humans; they should not be the mandate to achieve for machine results. It’s a process because people need time for self-discovery and simple tools on how to manage their journey. They will grow through the steps, not achieve them.
2. Be Present with Empowering Language vs. Expectations
As you meet with them try to not to use the word need, but instead use the word like. When we say, “What do you need to do?” can cause stress. It implies lack and what they don’t have. It can subtly come across as “Work harder to get your needs fulfilled, and your pain will go away.” Simply not true.
However, when we say “What would you like to do?” we are empowering them to discover what they would like to try with something they already have within or the power to accomplish . . . if it doesn’t work, then simply try something else. Need is about expectations and failure; like is about empowering them to discover what they have and can do (grow in).
3. Be Present with a Growth Encouragement vs. General Absolutes
We all thrive off encouragement but even more so when it’s a little more specific. Absolutes mind-set is, “You’re great” or “You’re so smart!” . . . “therefore, you can do this!” This is nice, but it doesn’t spur them on. Rather use growth mind-set encouragement, “You’re great . . . because I really can see how you’re using your tools, keeping a schedule, etc.
“PAIN ALWAYS CREATES THE ILLUSION OF GOD’S DISTANCE, DELAY, AND PERSONAL CONDEMNING DEBT (WHICH IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE) … COMFORT ACTIVATES THE BRAIN AND NERVOUS SYSTEM TO RELEASE THE HEALING HORMONES IN THE BODY TO HELP REDUCE THAT STRESS.”
It’s such an example of faith and grace as I’m seeing you grow and change.” This type of encouragement empowers them to stay on their healthy track and allows them to even innovate their process for other challenges.
4. Be Present to Listen and Learn vs. Teach and Track
If you’re highly trained, skilled, and know your Bible for all these issues, it’s very tempting to use the time to teach and then keep track how they apply it. However, come ready to learn and help them explore. Some of the things they are learning, even spiritually, will be simple, yet also very profound. Ask them to teach you some of the ideas they are learning in their faith and even the tools they’ve learned to manage stress (it will benefit you too).
Even if it’s basic to you, it might be the biggest light of discovery, power, and fuel for them. Encourage them in it! Also, some of the greatest influencers in church history struggled with mental health distress, and it led them to profound understandings in the love of God. Don’t be too proud to sit at their feet and learn.
Mental and emotional distress will always lend to this heartfelt need: crying out to God for breakthrough. Pain always creates the illusion of God’s distance, delay, and personal condemning debt (which is simply not true).
Point out two or three Scriptures and have them read about God’s comfort, nearness, and even support in challenging times. Let them read and discover. Don’t turn it into you teaching them but a dialogue always pointing back to God’s comfort and grace in the now, not praying for it to come down.
Comfort activates the brain and nervous system to release the healing hormones in the body to help reduce that stress. One friend discovered in his distressing thoughts to ask himself, “Where’s the REST of God in that?” Encourage and empower them to discover their own comfort-based response.