Leaning Into Pain – Seven Principles for Helping One Another from Dr. Deb McEvoy
Dr. Deb McEvoy has worked in Student Affairs at Grace College for more than 20 years and now serves as the Director of Student Health and Counseling. In her role, she keeps a careful pulse on the overall mental health of our student body as she sits with students on a daily basis.
Throughout her years of experience, McEvoy sees the vital importance of stepping into the pain of others. She diligently encourages our campus residents to truly see one another and help dispel the lies that we tell ourselves: that we are too much, not enough, that the pain is too loud, God is not present, or even that we do not merit the time of God and/or others.
Over time, McEvoy has picked up a number of helpful principles to keep in mind as we engage the sacred calling of “one anothering” at Grace College.
View God’s Word as Revelation
The Bible is God’s revelation from which we draw direction, guidance, and truth. 2 Timothy tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed,” which is so helpful when finding pictures of suffering and pain throughout the Old and New Testament. Sometimes we experience suffering and pain by the hands of others. Sometimes the suffering and pain come from our own choices. Either way, throughout God’s Word we find pictures of men and women who sought and were found by God, many in the midst of pain. What would it be like to believe, like Hagar, that God is one who sees us (Genesis 16:13)?
Being present requires less fixing and more space-holding. Most of us have experienced the “miss” of being a problem to be solved rather than a person to be seen. The truth is, many of us don’t move toward fixing because we don’t care. We may sense the pain and want the person to be in less distress. We may be doers who want to offer tangible help.
Sometimes we may even want to distance ourselves from pain by quieting the suffering of others because their pain reminds us of our own pain. (By the way, if you are one who moves quickly to problem-solving, it can be worth understanding your motivating “why” so fixing doesn’t become a barrier to caring well for others.) The bottom line is we need to show up as fellow image-bearers and human beings long before we show up with solutions.
It is important that we remind ourselves that weeping, mourning, embracing, and remaining silent are all actions we are told to make time for (Ecclesiastes 3:4-7). Holding space with another is best done when hearing from others what they need from us or others, rather than assuming we know. Validate the experience of others by understanding what it looks like for that person; this best happens when we listen before talking.
Closely related to being present, being available means accepting your ability to pour life into another. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Don’t invalidate the notion that you can be the one to help another. The Caller equips us for the calling: this time..this place…for this person. The opposite can also be true. You are not the only person who can help another. Some of us live as if we could never be used while others live as if they are the only ones who can be used.
Authenticity is a priceless gift in a world that increasingly offers mirages of how we’re doing as seen on social media posts. It’s okay to say you don’t have the answers to someone’s questions or pain. It’s also okay to say that you are not always okay. Proverbs 17:17 encourages us that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” While it won’t always be easy to come alongside another in their time of pain, these tips on remaining trustworthy will help.
- Be a person of your word. If you don’t intend to do something, it is better to not say you will.
- Treat the stories of others as you’d want your story treated which means you don’t share what is not yours to share EXCEPT for a few important reasons. Please don’t promise to hold in confidence what you cannot (someone who is a threat to themselves or others; a minor who is being emotionally, physically, verbally, or sexually abused or neglected, etc.)
- Don’t forget that when it seems like the rest of the world has moved on, it can be so incredibly meaningful to have someone check in, remember key dates (of someone dying, a breakup, an important event, etc.), and not forget the pain of others.
Seeing pain does not mean being responsible for pain. It can be easy to forget this when stepping into the pain of another. Know what is being asked of you and know what is yours to give. Also know when you’re outside of your lane, experience, or skill set. Here you can become a bridge to greater resources of those skilled/equipped/trained in a different way. Know that sometimes it can be scary, for the person in pain, to bring in another person. And don’t forget that sometimes others can “hear” that bringing in another person is because they are too broken. Remind others that this is not what you’re saying AND that you’re in for the journey, including when that means bringing in trusted others.
It may sound like an oxymoron, but taking care of yourself can be vitally important when stepping into the pain of others. When we fly, we are told to put on our own oxygen masks first and then look to help others. This same principle applies when stepping into the pain of others. Loving out of the depth of being loved by HIM is a reminder that there is only one Healer. Further, loving in the midst of pain, while sacred, can be impacting spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Putting your oxygen mask on first can look like making time to: pray and study God’s word; sleep; eat; go to work/school; be poured into by others and a host of other things. Neglecting your own functioning will work for a while. But when we don’t have the resources to step into the pain of others, we are vulnerable to helping others breathe when not breathing ourselves.
Finally, be aware that sometimes we can live by different sets of rules. One set is for everyone else and one set is a unique deviation of rules for ourselves. Others get to have help and grace and kindness when they hurt while we do not. If others get to have people step in when they are hurting, so do you.
Life can be hard.
Journeying with others, in the hard, is sacred.
Through the Health & Counseling Services, students receive holistic physical and mental health support — from managing the flu to combating the winter blues — our staff is here to help. Grace’s Health & Counseling Services is staffed to address mental and physical health distress that impedes students from becoming and belonging at Grace College. Both individual and group counseling sessions are available for students to address a variety of issues, including: anxiety, depression, stress, relational concerns, trauma, and adjustment.