We’re celebrating love in happy ways this month. We’ll give each other heart-shaped balloons, cards with warm words, and boxes of chocolates. But what about the times when someone we love is in a hard place, not a happy one? What can we give then?
I’ll confess I’ve offered many unhelpful things to people I love through the years, like unwanted advice or spiritual clichés. But I’ve finally learned to ask one question that is actually a gift to someone who’s hurting.
I hear the tears in my friend’s voice. “I’m fine,” she says, “It’s no big deal.” She’s trying to stay strong but I know her well enough to sense her weariness. My first instinct is to try to make her feel better, to figure out a way to fix it. But I’ve learned what people want most is not for us to solve their problems but to stay with them in their pain.
It’s tempting to offer solutions, advice, or reassurance that all will be well. It’s harder to not react but respond, to sit in the sadness or anger of the people we love, to be a safe space where they can feel whatever they need to so they can begin to heal.
I’ve worked as a counselor and life coach, engaged with thousands of people as a writer, and spent four decades on this earth full of brokenhearted people. In all of that, I’ve found this one simple question to be the most helpful when someone in my life is hurting: How can I love you well right now?
This question means we’re asking rather than assuming, focusing on the other person instead of our own feelings, discovering what they truly want rather than what we think they need. No matter what the person says, even if their answer is entirely different than what ours would be, we listen with love and grace, and then do what we can.
I love that in so many of the encounters Jesus had with people on this earth He asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32). God made humans. The One who knows everything, who can do anything, still chose to listen and respond. He could have skipped this part and simply solved the problem. But Jesus understood that what mattered most was not the solution but the soul in front of Him.
This Valentine’s Day let’s show our love in all the usual ways. We can send beautiful flowers, have a delicious meal, or surprise someone with a thoughtful gift. Let’s just also make sure that when the flowers fade, the last bite of dessert is gone, and the wrapping paper discarded, we know how to show our love the rest of the year too.
When I ask my friend how I can love her well she says, “Prayer and…pie.” We laugh and I tell her I can make both happen—I just need to know one more very important thing, “What kind of pie?”
MORE FOR YOU
Pray with me: Dear God, thank You for loving us lavishly—no matter what. Thank you for listening to our cares, concerns, and requests. Help us love those around us well. Teach us to listen with patience and live with kindness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Reflect: How have you seen God’s love at work in your life this month? And just for fun—what kind of pie would you choose?
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