I've always been drawn to hurting people. When I first began to reach out to those who are wounded, however, I was naïve. I believed that if I could introduce them to the truths of Christ, their problems would be solved. In some cases, that's exactly what happened, although it was an extremely slow process that took years of daily input and discipleship.
Gloria (not her real name) was such a person. She'd come from an extremely dysfunctional background and as a result suffered from severe depression and almost daily anxiety attacks. After becoming a mom, these symptoms increased. When I met her, she'd become a Christian but was floundering in how to raise this new baby who was entrusted to her. She could barely manage her life, let alone guide someone else's.
But at this crucial time, God brought her into my life. We moved into her neighborhood and I, too, was a new mom. As we connected over our children, we began to get to know each other, and I discovered that I had just what Gloria needed—daily guidance from a mature believer and immersion in the Scriptures.
We lived in that neighborhood for only three years, but in that time Gloria began to start on a road to healing. When I left, she'd become established in a local church, began to meet regularly with a counselor, and was finding the help she continued to need.
Similarly, I got to know Marsha (not her real name) when she came to our Bible study with her parents. Just 22 years old, she had two children and had been divorced twice. During her second pregnancy, she found a relationship with Christ. When I met her she was in that new Christian euphoria that believes life will be rosy from now on.
Just a few months later, her mother called me in tears. Marsha was pregnant again and could not face being the single mother of three children. She'd decided to get an abortion. Her mother pleaded with me to talk to her.
My heart sank. Nothing sounded harder than getting involved. But I met with her and talked about God being the creator of life and that he never makes mistakes. Marsha only wanted to know one thing: Did God forgive her and could she ever return to him again? She felt that since she'd blown it so completely after coming to Christ, he could never want her again, so she might as well keep on sinning. I assured her that Jesus waited for her with open arms to come back to him.
I met with Marsha weekly throughout her pregnancy—even during the last few weeks when she was hospitalized in order to keep the baby. She became a fighter for this child's life that she'd wanted to destroy a few months earlier. Although the world would consider Marsha a failure at her young age, I think of her with delight.
But reaching out to the hurting hasn't always turned out so well. I began meeting with Esther (not her real name) when she came to our church after her partner had died suddenly. I felt sorry for her because she was so sad and seemed so alone. I invited her out for coffee and we began to meet weekly.
At first it was going well but suddenly a switch flipped. She began calling me in rage, screaming at me because something hadn't gone her way that day. When I tried to move our relationship beyond just having coffee to a more discipleship relationship, she agreed to meet with me, but after months she had no interest in God and his Word, or in becoming healthier. It was clear she just wanted to use me as a sounding board for her woes, but in no way wanted to own up to or take responsibility for her problems. She just wanted someone to blame and take her anger out on. In the course of our conversations, I discovered that she'd been seeing a counselor for years and had been arrested for violence against another woman. Eventually, I had to quit taking her phone calls for my own safety and sanity.
Reaching out to the hurting can be a tricky business. As in all ministry, we need to be carefully attuned to the Holy Spirit so we can discern which people to get involved with as he brings them into our lives. What have you learned from being involved in ministry to those who are hurting?