A Note from Kelly King: I’ve often said that everyone has their “stuff.” It doesn’t mean we minimize the hurts and messiness of people, but it’s a reminder that we live in a broken world. Deb Douglas, in her continuing series on Ministering in the Messy, gives all of us some practical ways to identify those who are secretly hurting and how to determine boundaries when getting in the messy.
Every family has heartaches. I am sorry if that implies that any one person is less than unique because her family is not the only one hurting. Heartaches isolate us and make us feel as if we are the only ones who are suffering—as if no one understands. The truth is that hurting families are at every turn:
- The family grieving over their child’s choices—choices that seem to be destroying the family’s future
- The mom challenged with depression as children are left to care for themselves
- Marriages suffering from the impact of sinful choices
- The mom wondering if today is the day the water will be cut off, or the power, or if the eviction notice will come
- The child hiding from the noise of her family, the yelling that does not seem to stop, the hitting that leads to crying, deep sadness, and fear
- The family grieving the loss or soon-to-be loss of their dear sweet loved one
- The dad waiting by the side of the bed in the cancer unit
- The sister who finds her mom’s collapsed corpse
- The daughter crushed because of her widowed mom’s choices, choices that have driven a wedge between family members
- The mom who gets another call from the school about their child with challenges who fails to succeed
- The mom whose addict child is destroying their home and family relationships
It goes on and on. Families grieving, dealing with their suffering, many in isolation and silence. We can spend our time asking why this is the current status of families in our culture or we can determine how to help in practical ways. In this series, we will begin by looking at some basic questions:
How do you know which families are suffering if they are doing so in silence?
- Look for who is missing. Who is not attending small group but has in the past? Who is frequently absent? Who, when attending, stays detached and quiet? Who comes in late and slips out early?
- Pray for discernment. Pray for wisdom in approaching families who might be suffering.
- Engage in conversation and listen carefully. Do not ask, “But how are you really?” This question comes across as impersonal, inappropriate, probing, and doubting.
- Be available. The more you make yourselves available, the more likely you are to be approached for help.
How can you be prepared to help?
- Stay spiritually ready. Show compassion and love to others from the overflow of your personal love relationship with Christ.
- Understand that you cannot “fix” anything. You can comfort, give encouragement, and help find resources, but you cannot fix anything.
- Know what resources are available in the community. Keep updated contact information for abuse shelters, drug treatment centers, Celebrate Recovery and other addiction programs, homeless shelters, counselors, financial help, legal aid, housing aid, and other resources.
- Determine personal boundaries in helping others. Without boundaries, helping others may become a codependent relationship. Healthy boundaries include:
- Not giving money to the person
- Putting time limits on when you are available. For example, turning off the phone or not responding to text/calls after dinner
- Refusing to do things, such as making calls or contacts that the person could do themselves
- Protecting personal family time by calendaring family events. Cherish your family members by not bringing the problems of others into the family.
Recently, I was helping a family in crisis. The mom is in drug rehab. She asked me if I would bring her cigarettes, apologizing because she knows my deep conviction about the dangers of smoking. Not wanting to compound the challenges of detox, I went against my personal convictions and took the cigarettes to her. Afterward, I realized how wrong I was to do so. I had crossed my personal boundary. Compromising my conviction was an act of co-dependency rather than helping. I have been serving in this messy ministry for almost 39 years. I continue to make mistakes. I am still learning. It is a messy world.
Next week we will continue looking at how we help hurting families. In this messy world, the heartaches are numerous, but the love and compassion of Christ is larger than the messiness on this earth.
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.