They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
Up to now I have been focusing on being emotionally present to those in need. My son who has been a reader of my blog found tip #1 and #2 frustrating. He said he feels like he isn't doing much to help. It is true the first part of caring for another by maintaining a loving, accepting presence might feel like nothing. However, this supportive presence encourages the suffering to freely express their pain and gives them a sense of safety. I think this is the hardest work there is. A few years ago I spent a couple of weeks with someone who was dying. She couldn't be alone so I kept her company. Every day I spent with her was exhausting, despite it just being a few hours of sitting. I think most of us struggle feeling awkward around suffering people. Learning how to get comfortable with the awkwardness is key to being a caring, supportive person.
I want to switch gears with this article and talk about how to minister practically to those in pain. It feels empowering to do something tangible. But how do you know what will be meaningful? Gary Chapman has a great series of books. One of his books particularly speaks to this issue. It is The Five Love Languages. He defines them for you here.
Dr. Chapman teaches you your particular love language, but I am using the love languages in a different way. Instead of figuring out your own particular style of receiving love, focus on the person you want to minister to. How do they receive and accept love? I have figured out at trick to answer this question. As I have spent time counseling couples, I've discovered that we usually use our particular style of receiving love to show love to others. For example, Steve and Mary are having marital difficulties. Mary wishes Steve would take her on a date and spend "quality time" with her. She keeps trying to set dates up, but they don’t go as she expects and feels disappointed. Steve, on the other hand, doesn't feel loved or supported by this love language. He appreciates words of affirmation. He is frustrated that Mary is unhappy. He tells her daily how much he appreciates her and how much she means to him. Both are lovingly reaching out, but their efforts are missed. Why? Because they are using their own preferred love language to minister to each other instead of learning and using their partner's love language.
How does the person we are reaching out to show support and affection to others? Do they affirm others? Spend lots of time hanging out? Or do they give gifts? By asking this question you can reasonably figure out their love language. Now you know how to support them. Use the knowledge of their preferred love language to help them. If your close friend is having surgery and you know she is someone you can count on to help you out with acts of service, then you know she will appreciate a similar type of support from you.
I find Mark's account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane interesting, but sad. Jesus specifically requested the gift of quality time while he spiritually wrestled with the upcoming events. Peter, James, and John completely missed it. Jesus was being straightforward about what would be helpful. It didn't require guesswork on the part of his friends. But in their distress, they overlooked and ignored his needs. He ended up agonizing and praying alone (see Mark 14:40).
Let's hope we can do a better job listening and observing what our friends and family members need when they are deeply troubled; then we truly will be a comfort.