By: Melanie Walenciak
One of the aligning values at Life.Church states that we will laugh hard, loud, and often. That certainly describes a typical LifeGroup. When you are in community and doing life with others, laughter seems to follow. But there will be times when life gets hard and laughter is replaced by tears, fears, and grief.
When a sudden loss, an unexpected diagnosis, or a raging storm happens to a member of your LifeGroup, this is an opportunity to lead well by serving well. And this sharing of burdens is exactly what Paul was talking about in Galatians 6:2. It’s practically the whole point of why we come together in community.
You may not be able to “fix” the problem, but you can certainly pray for, listen to, and encourage one another as you walk through valleys.
It’s easy to become stressed or overwhelmed, especially if you have a “fixer” personality. You may not be able to “fix” every problem, but you can certainly pray for, listen to, and encourage your friend as they go through the valley.
First, pray. If you do nothing else, pray. Pray often. Pray without ceasing. As Pastor Craig says, “Prayer should never be our last resort. It is our first line of offense.” And when I say pray, I don’t mean simply add a name to your prayer list and remembering them during your quiet time. Do that too, but don’t miss the power of praying together. Don’t miss the prayers where two or more (your LifeGroup) comes together praying in agreement for one of their own. God has promised He will be right there in the midst of that (Matthew 18:20).
Then after you pray, act. Follow the lead of Boaz who prayed for Ruth in Ruth 2:12 and then turned around and became the answer to that prayer in verses 14-16. Boaz prayed for Ruth to be blessed, and then he blessed her with food and even arranged for an opportunity for her to glean more bundles of grain. Don’t just pray for blessings and help but also find practical ways to be a blessing and a help.
Practical Ways Your LifeGroup Can Help:
- Arrange meals. Whether you arrange a meal train and provide meals—or even give gift cards to restaurants—dropping off food is an easy way to meet an immediate need.
- Help with chores and errands. Perhaps the storm your friend is going through has taken strength away. Grocery shopping or mowing the lawn may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could make a huge difference to them.
- Provide childcare. If your LifeGroup serves parents of young children, you have an opportunity to serve the kids as well. Arranging playdates or even just offering to babysit can give your friend one less thing to worry about.
- Ask what they need. Some ways to help are obvious, but others may not be. Ask your friend what he or she needs right now. Then do it!
- Listen. Sometimes, all people need is someone to listen. And honestly, it doesn’t even have to be about the hard thing they are going through. Recently, when I was going through a storm of my own, a dear friend called and asked to take me out to talk. She made the ground rules plain. “We can talk about the problem, or we can talk about anything but that, whatever you need.” It was a simple thing that gave me so much freedom, and honestly it was so refreshing to not have to focus on the problem for a little while. The important thing was that she listened. I felt like my heart was heard. When Job was going through his hard time, the best thing his friends did was sit with him. In silence. For seven days and seven nights. Just listening (Job 2:13). It was only when they started to offer advice that things got messy, and they stopped being helpful.
Remember, being a leader doesn’t mean you do all the work. Allow everyone in the group a chance to serve. The blessings really do flow both ways.
Also know that your job is not to fix things. You are an encourager. Think of the LifeGroup as being Aaron and Hur, holding up their friend’s arms so they can win the war. (Exodus 17:12) You can’t fight for them, but you can be there for them while they fight.
One group I belong to has a simple rule. When another member asks “What should I do?” the rest of us gently lead them back to the One who has answers. “Have you prayed about it?” “What do you feel like God is leading you to do?” These answers aren’t cop-outs, and they aren’t meant to frustrate. They are meant to encourage those going through struggles to seek God.
Of course, there are times when real help is warranted, and more than encouragement is needed. Do not hesitate to bring in your LifeGroups/LifeMissions Pastor. Sometimes counseling is needed. Sometimes, in a physical crisis, a medical doctor is needed. And in all of these cases, your encouragement to seek appropriate help will put them on the road to healing.
Psychologists believe there are three kinds of empathy. Knowing and recognizing these will help us, as leaders, to give the right amount of empathy and care to those we love and lead.
Cognitive empathy is understanding that someone is hurting, without putting yourself in their shoes. Emotional empathy is feeling the emotions someone is going through in a way that can cause you to be caught up in their storm. And then there is a compassionate empathy, which allows you to understand what someone is feeling and to see things through their eyes, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you but instead moves you to action.
Compassionate empathy is the stuff that LifeGroup leaders are made of. This is what moves you to get your people praying. This is what motivates action and makes sure practical needs are met. This is what opens your ears and your heart to listen, and this is what gives you the wherewithal to lift up arms and encourage those going through grief, loss, and hard things.
This is the reason there are LifeGroups.