Listening to the Brokenhearted

When I started pastoring, I wasn't surprised by people sharing their pain with me. However, I always feel inadequate.

  • What do you say to the person living with the shame of abuse?

  • How do you respond to someone carrying compounded wounds from 30 years ago?

  • What can you offer to the man or woman burdened by their self-sabotaging sin?

While there are no easy answers, here is what I've learned over the years.



First Things First


As always, we must reorient our response to people within God's ever-present activity among us.


The Scriptures are clear that God sees our pain and hears our cries.

  • Because "the Lord listened" to Hagar's affliction, she said, "You are the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:11, 13).

  • The LORD said,“I have indeed seen the affliction of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I am aware of their sufferings." - Exodus 3:7

  • "But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer." - Psalm 66:19

  • "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." - Jeremiah 29:12-13

We don't listen well to get pats on the back. We pay attention to other's pain to join God in His healing work.


When we see and hear other's pain, we reflect God in our actions.



What Do I say?


Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don't try to fix it. Grief doesn't move at the same pace that we do. Often we try to move people through pain quickly because we're uncomfortable. As someone shares their pain with you, remind yourself, "There's nothing to fix here."

  2. Express sympathy. It's incredible how affirming it is to hear, "I'm sorry you went through that," or "I wish it was different."

  3. Summarize what you see. Refrain from dolling out advice, and instead, humbly share, "I see that you're really hurting. I can only imagine that ________ was gut-wrenching and felt like ________. Is that right?" Remember that God sees and hears our pain. Acknowledging and seeing someone's suffering is a great gift.

  4. Ask Questions. God also frequently asks questions in the Scriptures. Don't assume. Instead, ask questions. Be curious. Helpful questions allow you access to someone's: - Thoughts about God. - Thoughts about themselves. - Thoughts about others. - Emotions. - Actions. - Desires.

  5. Ask THE Question. "How can I best serve you right now?" Most often, people will say that listening to them is what they need. Occasionally, folks will ask for more practical help. The critical piece here is to find out if someone wants practical help before offering it.

  6. Sit in Silence. There are no words for some suffering. Learning to sit in silence is uncomfortable, yet a quiet presence is a balm for the soul.

  7. Pray. Prayer acknowledges the only Person in the room who can do anything about the grief we carry. Pray for your friend to experience God's nearness as Jesus sees and hears their pain.

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