When’s the last time you listened—really listened—to another person’s painful story?
For me, hearing stories of the real pain in others’ lives increases my sense of urgency. It helps me realize there’s no such thing as “normal.” It forces me to become more intentional about how I interact with people and reminds me that there’s a search for healing, forgiveness, and hope going on all around me.
Here are some snippets of stories I found that were anonymously shared online.
“I hate my parents for raising me in a religion that taught me to hate myself.”
“When I’m old, I will look back on this part of my life with huge regrets.”
“I had an abortion, and it ruined our relationship. Truth is, it wasn’t even yours.”
“I keep taking these pills to numb myself, and it is not helping me anymore.”
“I am a compulsive liar. I lie about everything just to make myself look good in front of other people.”
“People say I’m a great friend, but I hide behind a mask of self-hate and denial.”
“Other churchgoers thought I was a very religious person because I was active with church activities. I was actually just bored and lonely, so I spent time there.”
“I’ll never be content.”
How do you and your congregation respond to stories like these? As Christians, we know the answer to sin problems is Jesus, and we’re quick to point that out. Many people, though, are searching for something other than “truth.” They’re not ready for that—their pain consumes them.
Knowing that these stories of pain are walking through the doors of our sanctuary each Sunday should cause us to revisit what we preach and how we preach it. I’m reminded of an interesting interaction Jesus had with a person caught in sin. Initially, He didn’t address the person’s sin. His first priority was to address the accusers. Jesus showed compassion to the sinner. He didn’t condemn the sinner; He did, however, redirect the sinner. At your church, are you simultaneously showing compassion and helping point people in a new direction?
Most of us have work to do in this area. Consider these questions to help you design a ministry strategy that meets people where they are—in the midst of their painful stories.
- Are you willing to be vulnerable in your messages and share the imperfections and challenges you personally face?
- When you teach about sin, do you also teach about hope? Do people leave condemned, or do they leave encouraged to take their next step?
- Do people have an opportunity to share their stories, no matter how painful they might be?
- Are you creating opportunities for hurting people to connect in a community where they can find support and healing?
We serve a God who called us to go to the lost. Care for the sick. Touch the untouchables. Too often, though, we fail to see the painful stories that hide behind seemingly normal lives. Are you prepared to listen and help?