In his book Don't Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart, Dr. Kenneth Haugk shares important insight to help another person in their suffering. In chapter three he says that when you offer care and comfort to a suffering person you are stepping into a holy place. You are entering another person's unique universe of self, need and pain. It's holy because as you enter you will find that Jesus is already there ahead of you in that person. What a privilege! Upon entering another person's house of pain remember that you are the guest and that has some important implications.
- There are rules, customs and traditions that are unique to that person.
- The other person is the host, and the host sets the rules.
- Parts of the house are private unless the host invites you to enter.
- Be courteous and well mannered in another's house.
- Don't try to redecorate another person's house to suit you.
Often the temptation is to try to get the suffering person to handle their situation in a way that suits you or makes you feel more comfortable. That kind of redecorating is often resented. Your task is to understand and appreciate the unique person in front of you.
To do that it is helpful to ask "Who is the Sufferer?" Each person is socially conditioned to respond to crises and suffering in different ways. From childhood some see suffering as a part of the human condition that you just have to buck up and get through on your own. On the other hand another person will not internalize it but will deal with crises and suffering by sharing it and talking about it.
Religious beliefs also have a part to play. Some Christians see suffering and pain as a punishment from God for their sins or to help them grow spiritually. Others see that God is very much with them in their pain and suffering and will help them through it. For a caregiver to say to a suffering person, "Why don't you have the patience (endurance, courage, faith?) of Job?" demands a simple and easy answer: "Because I'm not Job."
Getting out of one's own notions of what a suffering person needs is difficult. It calls for focusing more on the other and their thoughts and feelings than on your own. Each sufferer is unique and needs to be seen and heard with the eyes and ears of compassion.
What is the source of the suffering? That too is an important question. Getting through pain and suffering will not only depend of the person's life experiences and history but also on the severity of the events that lead to the suffering. Research shows that people have more difficulty dealing with a crisis if it
- is life-shortening
- is of longer duration or permanent
- leads to no recovery or only partial recovery
- involves great pain, physical or other
- produces multiple crises simultaneously
- requires significant lifestyle changes
- comes as a complete shock
What resources are available to the sufferer? The ability to deal with suffering often depends on the resources available to the sufferer. Here are some resources that can make a difference.
- Adequate finances
- Health insurance, if health issues are involved
- Support from family and friends
- Pastoral support
- One or more people to talk with honestly and openly
- Support from a faith community
- Assistance in shouldering day-to-day responsibilities
- Ability to get away for rest and relaxation
The more resources like these that a person has, the better he or she will be able to deal with their difficult situations. When you come to the suffering person's house of pain, come without assumptions, without judgment. Come with a heart open to understanding.