When My "Stuff" Gets in the Way of Helping Others

Am I really attending to my friend’s hurts or hindering her from getting the help and comfort she needs?

Imagine this. A friend calls you upset and in need of help. She invites you to her house—something she's never done in the many years you've known her.

You pull up to the quaint house with a nicely manicured lawn, you walk to the front door, and ring the door bell. Within a few moments your friend answers. Her face is red and splotchy. It's clear she's been crying.

As you step into her house you immediately notice how dark and smelly it is. All the shades are drawn and a single lamp lights her large living room. Mildew and dust mix in the air and flood your nostrils with stench. Once your eyes adjust you notice piles of books, newspapers, and magazines stacked up along each wall. The end table near the couch is covered with used tissues. A bowl of moldy food sits on the floor.

What stirs up inside you?

Are you completely disgusted, ready to run out the door? Are you ready to get to work, helping your friend clean her home? Are you angry that she's kept this secret from you? Do you feel claustrophobic, eager to throw open the shades and windows to let in some sunlight? Are you filled with compassion for your friend, wondering what could have led to her home becoming like an episode of Hoarders?

Although none of these responses are necessarily bad, they do reveal what's happening in your heart. And God's been teaching me lately how important it is to be aware of what's happening there—especially when I'm trying to help others.

I'm currently taking a class called Care and Counsel. The course's aim is to help non-counselors learn critical aspects of counseling so they can better care for friends and those they minister to. It's been an eye-opening, practical course. And of all the tips and thought-provoking questions, the number one thing I've learned is how important it is to be aware of my own stuff, my own mental baggage.

If I truly want to be there for my friends, helping them grow closer to God, I have to be aware of my initial reactions and assumptions that may do just the opposite: hinder their relationship with God.

For instance, I've had many negative experiences with people who act in a passive aggressive way. Now when I get even a whiff of that attitude, I immediately become angry. The thing is, if I'm angry, it's hard for me to get past that person's attitude or actions to see the root of the problem and to compassionately attend to that person's needs.

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