A Note from Chris Adams: I must admit I am challenged by today’s post by Dr. Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. I am not good at building margin into my day to watch and be available when I cross paths with a woman in crisis. Pray before reading this article, and let God show you where you can adjust to be more available for unscheduled crises (and isn’t that true of all crises?).
Standing in line for the restroom in Italy I met a woman in the midst of a messy life. She was traveling from one southern state and I from another, but we bonded over the long wait and the messiness of life. After exchanging contact information, I set up a meeting time for later and began a journey of ministering to this stranger who became a friend.
My husband says I cannot go into any bathroom without finding a woman in crisis. He’s right. There’s something about the way God created me that women in crisis can sense. At times it feels like there’s a flashing message on my forehead that says, “Talk to me, I care about your messy life!”
Ministering to women in the messy moment can be a challenge. How do we minister to the woman in crisis on the spur of the moment?
- Stay prayed up and ready. We cannot give what we don’t have for ourselves. Guarding our hearts and our time to pray, study, and process will prepare us to help others. Ministering to others comes out of the overflow of a healthy love relationship with Christ.
- Live a flexible schedule. Being interruptible makes us available to make life-changing differences in the lives of women.
- Crisis moments are not scheduled. We do not pencil them into our calendar. Sometimes our calendar cannot budge, but there’s a crisis blocking our path. Yikes! What do we do? We speak briefly with her, pray with her, and make an appointment for further discussion and help later.
- Not every woman’s crisis is ours to handle. Discernment about when we need to step in and when we should step away comes from walking with Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us clear direction, sometimes using little red flags, to help us know if this is trauma or just drama; whether to stop or whether to walk on by and pray.
- Know when to refer and to whom to refer. Because we are not equipped to handle all situations, we need to be prepared to refer women on to someone who can help in more effective ways.
- Pray with her instead of promising to pray for her. We get busy and forget to pray. If we stop and pray in the moment, it will encourage the woman, and it will serve as a reminder to pray for her again later. Nervous about praying in public places? Relax. From airports to grocery stores, even in cruise ship dining rooms, I have prayed for women.
- Ask her first if it is OK to pray with her.
- Keep it short
- Pray with a hand on her arm to avoid making her feel uncomfortable. Respect her personal space.
- Contact information or not? Giving out our contact information for future communication requires discernment. Set good boundaries for answering the phone or responding to texts.
- Set hours for communicating.
- Set a limit on how many calls or texts to respond to each day. Set a time limit on how long conversations are to last.
- Protect family moments. Turn off the phone during family dinners and activities.
Back to the story…What happened in Italy? Over the next few days of our vacation, we met together. Because I was not part of her church or community, she felt free to share frankly with me. Taking advantage of this allowed me to share with her truthfully about what her next steps needed to be.
But what about my vacation time with my husband? He and I work long hours; our travel time is our only alone and together time. Being attentive to the needs of my husband and helping this woman God had put into my path was a balancing act. Confession: I’m not good at balancing; it is difficult. Thankfully, my husband is good at helping me. We worked out a schedule together of when he would be occupied and I could meet with this woman. I was able to help without allowing helping to take over our vacation.
As women in leadership, walking a balance beam of obligations and opportunities is not unusual. Every situation must be determined on its urgency and merits.
Here are some guidelines for walking that balance beam of helping others:
- Remember our first love. If ministering to others is robbing my time in prayer and study, then I am focusing too much on doing (for others) rather than being (the Christ-following women I am to be)!
- Priorities! If ministering to women in the messiness of life is creating messiness in my life, then I need to back off until I have boundaries.
- If all I think or talk about is women in crisis, then I am focusing too much on others and not enough on the life God has given me.
I have to remember that I cannot fix everyone’s issue or crisis. But God does put women in crisis in my pathway in order for me to slow down and minister in the messiness of life. I may be late for my next meeting, but to be a part of God at work in the life of another is worth it!
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.