This Sunday, I was talking with a friend from church. His wife is struggling with cancer. The big “C” has been dominating everything at their house from doctor’s appointments to household chores. Nothing is normal. To be honest, I hardly know what to say to him. In some ways, he would find it easier to struggle with the disease himself than to watch his wife wrestling with it. His situation is painful in a way that defies my ability to describe.
But it seemed to be meaningful to him that I am praying for them, that I care about them, and that I am willing to stand and listen as he tries to put the situation into words.
You won’t have to teach the Bible very long before you will run into the real life pain of your group members. Some will struggle with a failing marriage, a wayward child, or the loss of a job. Others, with the loss of a parent or a difficult illness. But people in your group will face difficult times. Like me, you may wonder what to say. Here are my suggestions:
- Your presence matters more than what you say. Somehow, when we enter into the lives of people we get to teach, we represent Christ to them. The ministry of our presence in their lives is a reminder of the presence of Christ, and it is hugely important. Be present when you can. Listen. Express love. Offer prayer.
- Avoid trite “theological” responses to their situation. Statements like, “She’s in a better place now,” or “You’ll find a better job,” may have some truth to them, they are hardly helpful when someone is struggling with their own pain. Resist the tendency to “devotionalize” the pain of your members.
- Cry with them. This is what Jesus seems to do when he arrives at the home of Mary and Martha after Lazarus has died (John 11). Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he still wept with the mourners.
- Remind them of God’s presence and love. Prayers like, “God, I know that you feel our pain. Please allow us to feel your presence as we struggle in this situation” may remind people of how much God cares. The most important answer to the problem of human suffering is a person. God knows; he cares; he is near.