Cancer strikes. A spouse is unfaithful. Abortion haunts. Sexual sin is exposed. A baby is stillborn. These tragic experiences are regular occurrences in our fallen world. Women we know are in these situations right now, and we must care for them in their trauma.
But how? I often feel at a loss for where to begin ministering to sisters in such situations. I don’t know enough Bible or have enough wisdom. The situation may be so far beyond anything I’ve experienced personally. I listen, trying to appear calm, but inside I’m panicking, fearing I’ll have nothing to offer this sister.
The bad news is that we’re inadequate. The good news, though, is that Christ is more than adequate to deal with any traumatic situation. It is to him we must point our struggling sister.
Here are five ways we can do this.
1. Be Believing
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of ministering to women in crisis is helping them believe. Sometimes they don’t believe things can get better, or that God is good in their suffering, or that their joy will return, or that God will forgive them of their sin. But the pain does lose its sting. As David proclaimed, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
When a friend is without hope, we often have to believe things for her she’s not ready to believe for herself. We know we want her to believe God is good and compassionate and that he answers prayer. But do we believe it? I know there’ve been times when I’ve looked at a situation and thought to myself, This is going to end badly; this is beyond fixable. But we serve a God who raises dead men and women to life! Is anything too hard for him? The answer is a resounding no. Sometimes we must believe this for our friends until they can believe it for themselves.
This is not “name it and claim it” theology. God can do anything he pleases, so we approach him with humble boldness. Jesus desired that if, it were possible, God would let the cup of suffering pass from him. But his greater desire was that God’s will be done. In our struggle with sin we are to look to Jesus, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). He didn’t just woefully accept God’s will; he delighted to do it.
2. Be Available
We often have a quick-fix mentality in our desire to see a sister come out of crisis. We think that if we combine the right verses with the right prayers and the right things to do, then all her problems will go away. But we’re not going to solve our friend’s marital problems in one conversation. We need to be available to our sisters for the long haul, even as we know all suffering, sin, and death are momentary. Whether it’s a day, a few weeks, or 50 years, in light of the eternal weight of glory that awaits us it is still momentary.
I recently heard someone reference Martin Luther’s pain in losing his daughter. Luther wrote:
I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalen has been reborn in Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should only joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end . . . yet the force of [our] natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in [our] hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves. . . . You, therefore, please give thanks to God in our stead!
In his grief, Luther was not ready or able to “give thanks in all circumstances.” But his friend was available to support him by giving thanks for him. Likewise, we comfort others with the comfort we’ve received from Christ. We may not have experienced the same pains, but we know the Lord to be the “Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).
3. Be in the Word
Our most effective means for encouraging belief is God’s Word. It shows us what he’s like, what he’s done on behalf of his people, and what he promises them in this life and the one to come. We bolster belief by fostering our knowledge of God. Remember Moses’s traumatic wilderness experience when the people rebelled with the golden calf? What enabled him to persevere? God revealed himself to Moses, and Moses—rather than crumbling in discouragement—bowed in worship (Exod. 34:6–7).
It’s tempting to mine the Scriptures for verses that seem to relate directly to a specific situation (which is often a good thing to do). But opening the Word of God to see what God is like and how he’s acted on behalf of his people will be beneficial far beyond this present crisis, and will help shift our focus more fully on him. Opening God’s Word regularly, daily, in non-crisis times is the best preparation for any crisis—for then we can draw on God’s truth hidden in our hearts and ready to flow forth.
And as you read, pray. Pray God’s Word for yourself and with your hurting sister. Your Savior hears and will answer.
4. Be Connected
It’s vital to be connected to a local church so that we know how, where, and when to get additional help for the woman in crisis. Some women need more availability than we have capacity for. Or we realize we’re out of our depth in dealing with a certain situation. Don’t approach this alone. Call on a pastor or elder to help you love and support your sister. Reach out to someone in your church who can provide counseling or practical help or who can point her to special resources.
It’s also vital to be connected to a local church for our personal spiritual benefit. Ministry to women in crisis builds faith as we watch the Lord work. It produces joy as we seize opportunities to point out evidences of God’s grace in the midst of pain, sin, and loss. But it’s also hard! We dare not do it apart from the whole body of Christ.
Integrating ministry among women into the life of the church helps balance these tensions and multiply these benefits. Our connection to a local body offers us the kind of support we need to be effective in ministering to a sister in crisis. And her connection to the body benefits her own soul as she sits under God’s Word and is encouraged, loved, exhorted, and prayed for by the whole body (not just you!). Cindy Cochrum’s chapter in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry is helpful on this point.
5. Be Rejoicing
When there’s a deep-seated struggle with sin or a devastating diagnosis, what may we take joy in? Well, if we’re endeavoring to point our sister to Christ, we must encourage her to take joy in what he takes joy in. In Proverbs 8:22–31, we see wisdom revealed to us as Christ himself. Wisdom rejoiced before the Father always (vv. 30–31), grounding that joy in three specific things Christ himself rejoices in: God’s presence, his creation, and his family.
We can encourage a woman in crisis to rejoice in God’s presence. As a believer in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for her, she is indwelt by his Spirit. He will never forsake her. He’s upholding her by his grace.
We can also encourage her to rejoice in his creation. Go for a hike. Linger over the little things—ants, snails, leaves. Visit an apple orchard or a zoo. Take your friend with you. What better way to lift our eyes off the world’s cares than by beholding the beauty of the works of the Lord’s hands and rejoicing in how they declare his glory?
And we can encourage her to rejoice in God’s family by recalling specific mercies, praying for others’ concerns, and spending time in fellowship. Encourage her to go to church, join a small group, and show hospitality.
Finally, we can rejoice in the fact that the greatest need we will ever have in this life has been met by Christ on the cross. In the midst of crisis, we remind our hurting sister that the Lord has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13–14). This calls for our greatest rejoicing!