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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Being There

Offering the comfort of presence, word, and deed

By Gary R. Allen
Nov. 17, 2013

I feel so awkward going to the hospital or funeral home. I never know what to say.”

During my years of pastoral ministry, I heard this statement often. All of us have likely had this awkward feeling at some time when trying to help a hurting person. But we can use some simple and effective strategies to become more comforting. These strategies connect more with who we are than what we might try to say.

Being a comforting person requires understanding some of the dynamics of hurting people. People hurt for various reasons, with varied intensity, and for varied periods of time. Even people who experience what appears to be essentially the same painful experience will respond and process their pain and grief differently.

Hurting is usually associated with some form of loss — of hope, self-esteem, self-confidence, material assets or finances, employment, a meaningful relationship, or a loved one. Such loss and emotional pain launch us into a process of grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying (1969), describes five common stages of the grief process:1

Denial — “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
Anger — “Who is responsible for this happening to me?”
Bargaining — “What could I have done to prevent this?”
Depression — “I can’t go on.”
Acceptance — “This has happened; I must move forward.”

While these stages are predictable, they may not occur in the above sequence, they can vary in intensity, and they often recur for a significant period of time.

For those who are hurting, the pain of the moment can be so severe they lose perspective of reality, rational thinking, and logical reasoning. It is important to allow them time to verbalize and vent without lecturing or judging them. Grieving is raw and painful. Hurting people may express anger including ambivalent anger, anger at those assumed responsible, anger at themselves, and even anger at God. You do not have to defend God. He is used to human anger and is long-suffering toward harsh emotional responses.

As a comforting person, you are there to support those who are hurting and assist them in the healing process of their loss and pain. The process of healing is facilitated by three primary elements: presence, words and actions.

Comforting Presence

“Pastor, I don’t remember anything you said at Jim’s funeral; I just remember you were there.” Ann may not have remembered my words, but she took great comfort from personal presence.

Presence is simply being there to attentively listen and gently respond. A squeeze of the hand, an arm around the shoulder, or an appropriate hug may be worth a thousand words to the hurting person.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word comfort originates from the Old French comfort, meaning “to be strong with.”2 The Bible has much to say about God’s comforting presence.

The command of Moses to not be afraid (Exodus 14:13; 20:20) is a command intended to bring comfort to the people based on the assurance of God’s presence and deliverance. Isaiah intends to bring comfort as he echoes God’s personal proclamation of His divine presence among His people: “So do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NIV). Paul’s classic passages on comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 7:2-16) suggest the dominant note of encouragement.3

Hurting people need to feel the relief of your coming alongside them. They need to feel heard, connected, and calmed by your presence. They should sense they are appreciated, respected and valued. You can be the one who brings energy, hope, reassurance and inspiration in the midst of their pain.4 Likely, none of us can provide all of these benefits, but all of us together in the community of believers can work together to become this overarching, wide-ranging source of comfort.

Comforting Words

While hurting people may first be aware of your presence and know you are listening, words are also important. Words reinforce presence and give strength-building encouragement. The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). The silence of our presence will eventually give way to words of comfort as we attentively listen and gently respond.

Pray: When you come alongside the hurting person, don’t hesitate to verbally pray with them. Audible prayer creates the environment and opportunity for God’s intervention. These are times when we will be more conscious of the Holy Spirit praying through us giving words of strength and healing when we normally would not know what to say. The hurting person takes comfort in words of faith and will often follow us mentally and verbally into their own prayer of trust and hope.

Author and theologian Henri Nouwen says, “Prayer is the bridge between my unconscious and conscious life. Prayer connects my mind with my heart, my will with my passion, my brain with my belly. Prayer is the way to let the life-giving Spirit of God penetrate all the corners of my being. Prayer is the divine instrument of my wholeness, unity, and inner peace.”5

Read the Word of God: Reading verses or short passages of Scripture to the hurting person can facilitate hope and faith. Even familiar, well-known verses become alive, refreshing and energizing in the presence of pain and sorrow. The Word of God is the light that shatters the darkness of pain and despair. The following verses are just a few examples:

Psalm 9:9The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Psalm 30:5Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Psalm 46:1God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 71:20,21Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.

Jeremiah 29:11“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Lamentations 3:22,23Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Nahum 1:7The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.

John 14:16-18And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:26,27But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 16:22Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

Hebrews 13:5Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.

When offering prayer and counsel from the Word, be careful not to allow your comfort to come across as a lecture. Speak with conviction, but with humility, avoiding any appearance of “having all the answers.” Be careful not to use hollow platitudes and over-simplified clichés such as: “Everything happens for a reason,” “It could be a lot worse,” “I know what you are going through,” or “It will all work out.”

Comforting Actions

Acts of kindness are also comforting to the hurting person. Provide a meal, mow the lawn, or transport them to an appointment. You may not be able to do all that is needed, but be a facilitator and enlist others to help and thereby enable team members to learn to be comforting people.

Whether we are proactive in reaching out to the hurting person or we are thrust into the situation by God’s timing and providence, we can be more effective in our comfort. One of the greatest motivators to offer comfort is to remember those times when we have been comforted ourselves.

Paul wrote of this process to the Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

Whether or not people recall our words and actions, they will likely always remember we were there for them. The writer Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”6.

1Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Touchstone, 1969).
2Val Walker, The Art of Comforting (New York: Penguin Group, 2010), 15.
3Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology,, accessed August 12, 2013.
4Val Walker, 16-19.
5Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing (New York: The Crossroad, 1999), 35-36.
6Maya Angelou,, accessed Aug. 6, 2013.

GARY R. ALLEN, D.Min., directed Assemblies of God Ministerial Enrichment and was executive editor of Enrichment Journal from 2000 to 2010. He currently serves part-time as pastoral adviser to the employees of the National Office of the General Council.

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