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Call to Care: Creating a Safe Place (Part 3)

May 31, 2016


Today's post is from Concordia Chaplain Rev. Roger Nuerge and is part 19 of the "Call to Care" series. Concordia's Chaplaincy Department actively contributes to our residents' well being.

In his Christian caregiving book Don't Sing Songs To A Heavy Heart, Dr. Kenneth Haugk says that there are things you can do to create a safe place for those who are suffering. When suffering people know they can talk with you and truly be accepted, you are giving them a precious gift. That happens when the suffering person knows you are a safe place for them to feel as bad as they need to feel at that moment. If you are comfortable with their pain, they will be comfortable sharing it with you. In two prior blogs posts (part 1 and part 2), we have looked at several aspects to this process. Today we look at the last four.

Body Language

One woman said, "People let me know they were with me by their body language as much as by their words." Body language is an important part of relating to a suffering person face to face. Here are some postures to avoid:

  • Don't look bored, as if you are obligated to listen to their troubles but prefer not to.
  • Don't look alarmed, as if you are going to drop on the spot.
  • Don't shift uneasily in the chair, as if you are going to bolt out of there.

Instead, we should:

  • Lean closer to the person to show you are intent and present for them.
  • As much as possible, maintain eye contact with a steady, gentle gaze.
  • Communicate your understanding and willingness to continue listening.
  • Pray. Silently ask God to help you love unconditionally. Offer to pray with the other.

Really Real

If you know the suffering person well, you can be more at ease with getting "real" with him or her. If you have asked, "How are you doing?" and get the ritualistic "Fine" as a response, you might follow up with, "How are you really doing?” That simple word – “really” -- is powerful, if spoken sincerely, in showing your true interest in what your friend has to say.

Demonstrating Acceptance

Acceptance of another person is, as psychologist Carl Rogers puts it, a "deep empathetic understanding," which enables you to see the world as the other person sees it. It means you can accept the other person's attitudes at the moment no matter how negative or positive.

At times caregivers give off signals of not accepting a suffering person, and the suffering person is quick to pick that up. "I felt rejected because I knew people did not want to hear about the negative feelings in my life," said one person. Another said that even people at church avoided them after their son was killed in a car accident.

How can you show acceptance of another person's bad news?

  • Meet the person where he or she is. When the person expresses pain, fear, sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, that's where you need to be too.
  • Focus on the here and now rather than the there and then. It's a waste of time to tell a hurting person that they will feel better in the future. They are hurting right now and likely cannot see beyond the present moment of pain.
  • Acknowledge the feelings. A hurting person has a number of negative feelings swirling around inside. It is best to respond in a feeling way rather than an intellectual way. Encourage such a person to feel as bad as they need to feel right now without making them feel guilty about what they are feeling.

Your acceptance can be almost miraculous. It creates a safe place for them to be so that they can experience the warmth and comfort of agape love, and that's what caregiving is all about.

Avoiding Avoidance

The people you care for can benefit greatly when you create a safe place for them in their pain, but the truth is that you benefit from the process too. Perhaps you, like many of us, have found it hard to connect with someone who is hurting and so you avoided them because you didn't know what to say. That makes you feel even more terrible, doesn't it?

You give a great gift when you create relationships where hurting people can feel safe enough to be honest with you. You also receive a great gift. You receive their trust and gratitude for being willing to share in their journey of suffering with them. In those moments, you become God in the flesh for them in the way that Jesus became God in the flesh for the world.

Jesus suffered with and for us so that we could have a safe place in God's forgiveness and acceptance now and eternally. When we create a safe place for a hurting person we are doing what Jesus did for us and what he calls us as his followers to do for each other. What a privilege!

For more information on the health and senior care services offered at Concordia, message us through the Contact form on our website or call 724-352-1571.

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