We all have them in our churches. Women whose lives are full of hurt and pain, who struggle with job loss, economic woes, health issues, parenting issues, and more. They sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday, trying to trust God with their struggles and frequently wearing a mask to cover their pain. We will never know their stories unless we make the effort to invite them into our lives and discover who they are.
A friend and I listened as a woman shared her story of a son who is struggling with paranoid schizophrenia. She lived in fear as she watched his hallucinations and bizarre behaviors become increasingly more frequent. The hours leading to his involuntary hospitalization were something I would never wish for anyone. My heart ached for her and her pain. We held hands as we prayed for her family. My friend and I both prayed that God’s healing hand would be on this family, but it was her prayer that made me cry as I truly saw the heart of a mother who loved God.
I watched as another woman lost her son to an illness that had robbed him of his job, his marriage, his self-confidence, and eventually, his very life. Losing a child is one of the most devastating things that can ever happen to a mother, and seeing her pain and knowing there was nothing I could do to alleviate it, was extremely difficult. I saw her grow stronger in the Lord, serve with a humble heart, and lift up others during their times of pain. God has been a constant companion to her and her husband, and her painful loss has not been in vain. Her witness to others is not unnoticed.
Unfortunately, not everyone who sits in our church pews has a strong faith and a story of triumph through tragedy. Some of them are discouraged, some of them are questioning their faith, some of them believe that no one cares about their struggles. How do we minister to them? How do we find out their stories?
First, we need to pray that God will open our eyes to see and ears to hear the needs around us. Listen for concerns that are expressed by them or others. Do they have a friend they sit with at church? Do they participate in a small group outside of Sunday morning? Does anyone else at church socialize with them? Are we aware of their family needs? We have many lonely women sitting in our church pews. Do you see them? Do you hear them?
Second, we need to let them know we care. Sometimes women just need to know someone out there cares about what is going on in their lives. A gentle word, a loving touch, a little kindness, a card, a meal–anything that says “I care about you”–goes a long way. When a woman knows that we care, she is much more likely to share her life and her needs.
Third, we need to give them a safe haven. We don’t always know what is happening in a woman’s life and what her story is. Sometimes a woman is reluctant to share her story because she has been hurt in telling others. We need to listen to her without judging, we need to keep her story in confidence and ask permission to share if there is a need, and we need to provide her with a safe place to share her life.
Last but most importantly, we need to show them a God who loves them. God created us for relationship and the most important relationship in anyone’s life is their relationship with God. When that is right, all the other things, discouraging as they may be, are put in a different perspective. When we ask a woman to share her story with us, we want to be sure that our response is a reflection of our Father’s love. We need to be sure to focus on Him.
All of us have a story. Some of them are more dramatic than others, but they are all important in God’s eyes. Get to know the women around you. Find out their stories. Some of them will shock you. Some of them will surprise you. Some of them will inspire you. Some of them will make your heart ache.
The amazing thing is God uses our stories. He is constantly rewriting and updating them. What’s your story? If a friend asks you why having God in your life matters, what will you tell them? Be real. Be transparent. Let them know you do not have all the answers and sometimes you struggle. Ordinary people serving an extraordinary God – that is the crux of the story. We all need to be ready to share our story so that others can see how God has worked in our lives.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 ESV