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Compassion in Crisis: Meeting People Where They Are

By Seth Strawn, LPC | June 07, 2024 

Grievers are often not happy or satisfied with the way the Church has handled their grief. 

Often, people come to the Church (believers and non-believers alike) when they are hurting or when they need help and don’t know where else to look. It is often in our hardships and trials that we seek assistance or aid. Some of the trials people experience include physical illnesses, sickness, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, grief, the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, a break-up, addictions, lack of safety, lack of shelter, betrayal, loneliness, unmet expectations, and the list can go on. 

One of my long-term frustrations from within the Church is the Church’s struggle to meet people where they’re at. The experience of many hurting people who have gone to the Church for help has been that of simply being told, “you just need Jesus,” or “Jesue is the answer,” without providing any tangible help in the moment on a human-to-human level. Church leadership or other church members (of which I am included) might also try to put a silver-lining or “positive outlook” on people’s pain; they might try to assign a Bible verse to issue – as if the Bible verse will fix everything and make it better. Then, if the Bible verse doesn’t suddenly make the struggle go away, satisfy the hurts and wounds of the person, or at the very least provide comfort, then it is suggested that perhaps the continued pain and suffering might be an issue of the individual not having strong enough trust and faith in God. We, the Church, then leave that person in a state of hurting, feeling defeated, and possibly feeling more hopeless and alone than they did before coming to us. And we go on with our daily life unphased and unaffected. 

At a basic foundational level, all humans are compiled of different parts; we are physical, emotional, thinking, and spiritual beings. Each one of these aspects of the human person affects all the other aspects. Another aspect of how humans are created by God in His image is that we are relational beings created to be known and to know others through attuned understanding, care, and love within the context of community. 

Sometimes, with where people are at in life, they need spiritual responses from us, and for us to meet them on the spiritual level. Other times, with where people are at, they need “human” responses from us – not primarily a spiritual response. Almost always, what people need from other people is presence and to be attuned to (or understood at an emotional and compassionate nonjudgmental level). Often, the church struggles to meet people where they’re at when they are in a place of needing human-to-human response and connection.

Is it true that we all need Jesus, that Jesus is the ultimate answer to all our brokenness and struggles, and that prayer and the Word of God are the most powerful resources we can use against brokenness and hurt? – Yes, that is absolutely true. Jesus tells us in John 14:6 that He alone is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Mighty Counselor, the Bread of Life, Living Water, the Good Shepherd, our Comforter, Healer, Protector, our Light in the darkness, and the Word become flesh. Jesus is able to fully and sufficiently meet our every need. Not only spiritually, but also physically, emotionally, relationally, and cognitively. While He was on earth, He modeled for us how He did this; within the Gospels (and throughout Scripture) we see how the God of the universe meets people exactly where they’re at. Within the Gospels, this is often shown by Jesus meeting physical needs or emotional needs prior to meeting the spiritual need. Some people within the Gospels received the spiritual truth and life offered from Jesus and by Jesus; other times, people rejected the spiritual aid and only accepted the physical and emotional aid. Regardless, Jesus met people in the messiness of their lives in real, tangible, and compassionate ways. Often times, the struggles people have are not struggles which you or I can fix; however, they are struggles which we can enter into with them. This is what it means to be compassionate. Meeting people right where they’re at is a part of what it means to follow Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love others the same way in which Christ loves us. This is what Jesus did and continues to do for us, as our Savior, High Priest, Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Intercessor. 

Rather than meeting people where they’re at, though, our tendency is often to try to meet people where we want them to be or where we think they should be, or where we’re at rather than where they’re at. And by doing this, we are not meeting them at all. We are not attuned to them, we’re disconnected from them, and we are not able to truly understand them. We’re missing the target, becoming more disconnected, and we are not even aware that this is happening. Romans 12:15 tells us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It is not our job to condemn or make final judgments; it is our job to be discerning in seeking God’s wisdom and His ways, to care for others, and to follow His example in how to love. 

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; likewise, the journey toward healing for a person seeking help begins when the helper meets them where they’re at.

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Grievers are often not happy or satisfied with the way the Church has handled their grief. 

Often, people come to the Church (believers and non-believers alike) when they are hurting or when they need help and don’t know where else to look. It is often in our hardships and trials that we seek assistance or aid. Some of the trials people experience include physical illnesses, sickness, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, grief, the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, a break-up, addictions, lack of safety, lack of shelter, betrayal, loneliness, unmet expectations, and the list can go on. 

One of my long-term frustrations from within the Church is the Church’s struggle to meet people where they’re at. The experience of many hurting people who have gone to the Church for help has been that of simply being told, “you just need Jesus,” or “Jesue is the answer,” without providing any tangible help in the moment on a human-to-human level. Church leadership or other church members (of which I am included) might also try to put a silver-lining or “positive outlook” on people’s pain; they might try to assign a Bible verse to issue – as if the Bible verse will fix everything and make it better. Then, if the Bible verse doesn’t suddenly make the struggle go away, satisfy the hurts and wounds of the person, or at the very least provide comfort, then it is suggested that perhaps the continued pain and suffering might be an issue of the individual not having strong enough trust and faith in God. We, the Church, then leave that person in a state of hurting, feeling defeated, and possibly feeling more hopeless and alone than they did before coming to us. And we go on with our daily life unphased and unaffected. 

At a basic foundational level, all humans are compiled of different parts; we are physical, emotional, thinking, and spiritual beings. Each one of these aspects of the human person affects all the other aspects. Another aspect of how humans are created by God in His image is that we are relational beings created to be known and to know others through attuned understanding, care, and love within the context of community. 

Sometimes, with where people are at in life, they need spiritual responses from us, and for us to meet them on the spiritual level. Other times, with where people are at, they need “human” responses from us – not primarily a spiritual response. Almost always, what people need from other people is presence and to be attuned to (or understood at an emotional and compassionate nonjudgmental level). Often, the church struggles to meet people where they’re at when they are in a place of needing human-to-human response and connection.

Is it true that we all need Jesus, that Jesus is the ultimate answer to all our brokenness and struggles, and that prayer and the Word of God are the most powerful resources we can use against brokenness and hurt? – Yes, that is absolutely true. Jesus tells us in John 14:6 that He alone is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Mighty Counselor, the Bread of Life, Living Water, the Good Shepherd, our Comforter, Healer, Protector, our Light in the darkness, and the Word become flesh. Jesus is able to fully and sufficiently meet our every need. Not only spiritually, but also physically, emotionally, relationally, and cognitively. While He was on earth, He modeled for us how He did this; within the Gospels (and throughout Scripture) we see how the God of the universe meets people exactly where they’re at. Within the Gospels, this is often shown by Jesus meeting physical needs or emotional needs prior to meeting the spiritual need. Some people within the Gospels received the spiritual truth and life offered from Jesus and by Jesus; other times, people rejected the spiritual aid and only accepted the physical and emotional aid. Regardless, Jesus met people in the messiness of their lives in real, tangible, and compassionate ways. Often times, the struggles people have are not struggles which you or I can fix; however, they are struggles which we can enter into with them. This is what it means to be compassionate. Meeting people right where they’re at is a part of what it means to follow Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love others the same way in which Christ loves us. This is what Jesus did and continues to do for us, as our Savior, High Priest, Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, and Intercessor. 

Rather than meeting people where they’re at, though, our tendency is often to try to meet people where we want them to be or where we think they should be, or where we’re at rather than where they’re at. And by doing this, we are not meeting them at all. We are not attuned to them, we’re disconnected from them, and we are not able to truly understand them. We’re missing the target, becoming more disconnected, and we are not even aware that this is happening. Romans 12:15 tells us to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It is not our job to condemn or make final judgments; it is our job to be discerning in seeking God’s wisdom and His ways, to care for others, and to follow His example in how to love. 

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; likewise, the journey toward healing for a person seeking help begins when the helper meets them where they’re at.

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