In my role as a Pastor of Counseling, I am frequently asked questions on topics that individuals believe are too uncomfortable or awkward to discuss with others. Many times people are unsure how to put into words what they want or need to know. It doesn’t mean I’m an expert on the question’s answer; it usually just means I am a safe place—implication: You don’t have to be an expert to be a safe place (i.e., good friend).
Within this question, there seems to be several unstated questions:
- Is anything different about redemption for sexual sins or abortion?
- What don’t I know about these experiences? What do I need to understand?
- What inaccurate assumptions am I most likely to make?
- How do I navigate subjects where my instincts are significantly shaped by moral-political debates, instead of conversations of personal care?
- How do I avoid making this interaction feel like an “us-them” conversation, while also acknowledging the experiences being discussed are traumatic in nature (for my friend)? How can I be sensitive to this reality, knowing that my friend is allowing me into, perhaps, the most vulnerable part of her story?
I hope you are saying, “Yes, those are the questions I wanted to ask, but may not have had words for.” In this post, I am not going to provide expert-level background information on the impact of multiple sexual partners or abortion. Instead, I am going to offer more general guidance on how to care well when you’re having a conversation on an emotionally-powerful subject that contains a strong mix of sin and suffering.
First, redemption begins with listening because Jesus’ ministry began with incarnation.
Jesus entered our world by humbling himself, in the form of a child. We enter another person’s world by humbling ourselves enough to listen. Whenever you are not sure what to say, focus on being a really good listener. Enter their experience and, thereby, help them feel less alone and alienated.
- Start by saying “thank you” for being entrusted with such a delicate part of your friend’s story. Acknowledge the courage in your friend’s disclosure and the special privilege you are being granted to walk with them.
Second, redemption allows listening to breed empathy, because we imitate a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses and temptations (Hebrews 4:15).
When Jesus had a conversation like the one we’re describing, his new friend was amazed at how well he understood her without shaming her (John 4:29). If we are an effective ambassador of Christ, our friend will feel the same.
- Allow yourself to be moved by the hurt, confusion, betrayal, trauma, shame and other emotions in her story. We’ll talk more, later in this article, about how to minister effectively. But we earn the privilege of walking with someone, and the right to be heard, by being able to empathize with their experience.
Third, redemption honors the pace at which an individual is able to move forward, because we are ambassadors of the Good Shepherd.
Notice the pace of Psalm 23: they are walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (v. 4). Good shepherds don’t go faster than the condition of the sheep allows.
- In your mind, make sure you are thinking of conversations and not a conversation. We often represent Christ poorly when we rush by being too concerned with “having the right answer” that “makes things better.” This is why so many unhelpful things are said at funerals. Often, the most important skill in being helpful is the ability to patiently be uncomfortable with someone who is uncomfortable.
Fourth, redemption shows interest in the whole person, because redemption is about all of life.
No one chapter of any person’s life defines his or her whole life. Shame often tempts us to define our entire lives by our most painful moments. One of the unique opportunities of friendship and pastoral ministry—that is different from formal counseling—is that the relationship does not have to be problem-focused.