Three Things to Consider Before Sharing Scripture With a Hurting Friend
Last week was difficult.
My friend made treatment decisions for her Stage 4 cancer. I hate saying that, “cancer.”
My son moved to another state. My little bird has flown the coop. How do mama birds push their babies out of the nest? I don’t know that I could do that. Even though I know this is the best thing for my son and I’m 100% confident he is ready, still, it feels like a small part of me died this week.
My adopted child with PTSD had to live through a huge change in our family. His body told him this was a life-threatening danger. All we could do was love him through it.
This kind of stress can cause the amygdala in my brain to take over. In stress, my amygdala moves into the driver’s seat and demands my attention. It takes the wheel and screams, “Let’s freak out! Shut down all systems and focus on the pain!”
So, now is a good time for me to share what I’ve learned about when and when not to share scripture with a hurting friend.
Wait, what? There’s a time when we shouldn’t share scripture? Say it isn’t so.
Oh, it is so. And I learned it the hard way.
When NOT to Share Scripture
When is it not a good idea to share scripture with a hurting friend? I can’t say this list will be true for you, but it has been true for me.
When I’m mad.
When I’m freaked out.
When I’m not listening.
It is in those moments when the logic center in my brain is not in control. So, sharing Truth like, “God works all things for good,” (Romans 8:28) or “You just have to have faith,” (Matthew 17:20) doesn’t help. I love those verses, truly I do. I believe them and say them to myself all the time. But I cannot enjoy them when my amygdala is being bossy in my head. Logic and truth don’t matter one bit to my amygdala.
So what do we do? How can we know when to share Truth that makes a difference to our hurting friend?
When to share scripture
When my first son was an infant, a friend in our mom’s group lost her daughter to SIDS. It was horrible. It left me speechless and yet I wanted to offer comfort. I didn’t know her well. I was not in her inner circle but in my desire to do or say something helpful I quoted that Romans passage and even set up a playdate. The mom was very gracious but I could tell I wasn’t helping at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure my words and actions just hurt her more. She was struggling to understand how God could allow this happen. Her arms were aching with emptiness and I was standing before her with a healthy baby boy. She wasn’t in a place to hear from a near-stranger that God would use this for good even if we don’t understand how. This was the beginning of my lesson in what to consider before sharing scripture with a hurting friend.
As a friend who has shared Truth at less than helpful moments and lived to regret it, and as a friend who needed Truth but couldn’t receive it during stress, I have learned a few things on the subject. Nowadays, I consider three things before I open my mouth to share scripture:
Consider the relationship - It’s like the old adage, “People don’t care what you know until they know that how much you care.” Take a moment to consider how close you are to your friend. If you are a member of her inner circle, you may be just the right person to share Truth when she needs it. But if you are a seasonal friend or a bit more removed, you might want to leave space for a closer friend to speak Truth.
Consider the mood - If by her actions you can tell that the amygdala is in the driver’s seat, hold off on the logic. Her logic center probably cannot digest Truth right now, so use this moment to be a support in other ways. (When my kids see me crying, they always come to me slowly and quietly and ask, “Can I get you some water?” Bless them! Even kids know how to offer comfort when the amygdala is in control.) Friends, don’t give up. Just wait until she has dealt with the grief, shock, or whatever emotion she’s stuck in. When the Lord has calmed her heart, you will be ready with the scriptures she needs.
Consider the source - (And by “source,” I mean the source of my help.) Before saying a word, pray for God’s guidance. The Helper is available to lead you as you speak with your hurting friend. I have found that if I lead with a question, I can better gauge what my friend needs and follow the guiding hand of the Helper. Does she need comfort? Maybe she needs a hug. Or maybe she needs a reminder that God's arms are around her. Listen to her and listen to the Lord. Does she need courage? Maybe she needs you to go with her to a doctor’s appointment. Or maybe she needs a reminder that God will supply the strength. Listen to her and listen to the Lord. Does that make sense?
Hack the situation and Use a Back door
When I was in the ICU, unable to speak and freaking out, Chris pulled out his phone and turned on praise music very low. Then he placed the phone on my pillow near my ear. Instantly, I calmed down. The words in the familiar tune got through my amygdala, got through the medication fog, and seeped into my heart. That long, arduous journey through my brain finally succeeded in doing what Truth does, it calmed me with God’s peace. You know, the peace that passes understanding. There’s no reason that a song should have had that kind of impact in my ICU room where bells were ringing and nurses where bustling about. The level of stress in the room was palpable. But Truth is powerful and music is a miracle delivery system. Truth in music brought my entire body peace in the midst of a life-or-death moment. And this is how I know that back doors exist.
There is a back door for sharing Truth when the amygdala has taken over the brain’s logic center. For me, the back door is music and a hand to hold. For my child, it is food and/or the dog.
Find your friend’s back door and use it! If you are the right person and God is leading you with the right words, getting Truth to your friend in a crisis moment is worth all the creative effort you can muster. Find the back door, friends. Find it and walk boldly through it.
Your back door may be a dog. Ok, bring in the dog.
Your back door may be food. Great, bring in the snacks.
Your back door may be a garden. I love that! Pull on the gloves and get in the dirt.
Do whatever you need to do to get Truth past the amygdala. Past the body’s defense system. Past the junk, the stress, the fear… Get past those things so that the beauty of God’s love letter can speak to your friend’s heart where you really do want it. Where it can do transforming work. Where it meets her mind, her heart and her soul.
Jesus and Back Doors
This back door thing isn’t mine, you know. I’d love to take credit for it but I can’t. I learned it from Jesus.
In John 20, Mary Magdalene was in the garden after Jesus had been buried. When she arrived, the tomb was empty. She began a very sweet freak-out session, crying and turning to a man she assumed was the gardener for help. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” I can picture her crumpling to the ground, afraid she won’t see Jesus’ body again. Afraid she won’t know where he is buried, which means she cannot visit to cry near the tomb and leave flowers in remembrance. If I were Mary, I would be ugly crying at this point and already jumping six steps ahead in my series of worries: How will I tell the other ladies? What will the disciples think? Who would do such a thing? WHERE IS HE?!
But then, the man (who is Jesus), spoke her name, “Mary.” That’s it. No logic to break down the ridiculousness of her worries. No scripture to help her connect the dots of his death, resurrection, and prophecy. None of that. Simply her name.
Whoosh, right past Mary’s amygdala. And right into the arms of Jesus. We know she hugged him because his next words were, “Do not hold on to me.” And then he reminds her of what she needs to do next. The practical steps came after the intimate moment of speaking her name and wrapping her up in a comforting hug.
Friends, do not worry about when to share Truth with your hurting friend. The right time will come. Until then, just be present. Give a hug. Hand over a tissue. Grab a glass of water. Listen to a flood of illogical words. And help your friend calm down. Then, when she is ready, speak the message of Love that you know her heart needs. It will be ready. And it will be powerful.
I have created a personal playlist of my favorite songs that break through the fog to deliver Truth to my freaked-out heart. It’s a handy self-care routine for little ol’ me.
If you’d like the playlist for yourself, just click below.
Friend, if you are the one hurting today, can I encourage you to seek the comforting presence of God? I’ve put together a little guide just for you. May Love’s arms wrap you in a comforting hug today.