One of our desires at BASIC is to be relevant and connect you with content that is going to best help you as you serve your campus and ministry context! In an effort to bring in fresh perspective and new ideas, we have asked a few student leaders and advisors to share their voice! We’ll get to hear from one of them each month. This week, we have the honor of hearing from Ellen Murphy.
Ellen Murphy graduated in May from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. While at Le Moyne she was very involved with the BASIC group, and served as secretary for the group for two years. Besides Jesus, she is passionate about social justice, books, cute babies and iced caramel macchiatos.
Life can be a struggle bus, and we all will struggle at some point in our lives. The Bible says that in this life we will have troubles (John 16:33). Often when we are in the midst of pain is when we feel most alone. During these times of struggling is when we most need empathy and connection from those around us, and we often are left without, only deepening our pain.
I have dealt with a fair amount of struggle in the past few years. I have struggled with depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm, insecurity, and identity. I was emotionally abused and continue to deal with the effects. Most recently, my family has been walking through the pain of my mom’s diagnosis with stage four cancer.
Those are my Struggle Credentials. I only share them so that you know that this is coming out of a place of experience and honesty. These experiences in addition to watching many of those I love struggle have given me a sense of what actually helps someone in the midst of struggle, and what seems to only hurt more.
As leaders, we have to deal with our own problems, but we also are in a unique position to bring light into another’s dark place. But often it’s hard to know what to say or do. When a student has personal hardship, grief, and pain we often think, “I don’t want to make them feel worse,” or, “I just don’t know what to say.” So what can we say or do to actually help the struggling students, friends, and fellow leaders in our lives?
Here are some very practical ways you can help others on your team, club members, and friends who you know are struggling and bring light into their darkness:
Over and over the authors of the New Testament remind us that prayer is powerful and that our prayers are always heard (1 John 5:14-15). If you know someone is struggling, before you do anything else, begin praying for them, and pray for guidance in how to help them. Remember that only God knows what each individual person needs. Be in tune with the Holy Spirit, and if the Spirit leads you, offer to pray with the individual.
When my BASIC advisor could tell I was especially depleted or struggling, she would stop and pray over me. We had walked through life together enough that she knew what was happening in my life, and she was able to speak life into my darkness. If you feel led to pray for someone, ask them if they would be comfortable with it. Some people may feel uncomfortable being prayed over in public, and may want to do it out of sight, or may just be doing so badly in that moment that being prayed over would send them spiraling (I have been there many times!). If you ask and they say no, just continue to lift them up internally.
Keep your focus on the person in pain, and not on yourself. I remember going to an event with people from my parent’s Church just a week or two after my mom’s cancer was confirmed as stage four. At this gathering I received many responses to my mom’s cancer—most bad with only a few good ones—but two stood out the most. One woman clung to my arm in hysterics saying over and over again “this is just terrible, it’s just horrible, it’s just terrible,” etc. I had to comfort HER, while I was thinking “Gee, I’m sure this is very hard for you, someone who barely knows my family.” Don’t make the person struggling comfort you about their own situation. If need be, find a trustworthy person outside the situation to comfort you. Be attentive to what the person in pain needs, and save your negative reactions for others.
The other negative response to avoid is attempting to be helpful without paying attention to what the struggling person actually needs. At that party, a woman who had survived a vastly different type and stage of cancer explained at length her suggestions for dealing with side effects and complications I hadn’t even considered yet. Instead of being helpful, it was horrifying, and I left the conversation far more overwhelmed than before.
Read the situation, and consider whether the advice you want to give is for their benefit, or yours. Don’t share advice to make yourself feel better. Consider waiting to give advice until asked for it, or if you decide to share with the person, be sure to do so gently. It is so important to just listen. John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” When talking to someone who is struggling, remember to lay down your life, your expectations, your reactions, and your advice in order to love and serve them.
This is a great practical way to tell those in pain that you love them. When my mom was diagnosed, I saw an incredible outpouring from the people around me. A girl in one of my classes left a bag outside my door with a coloring book and some tea. My RA staff gave me a basket filled with goodies. The staff at the office I worked in gave me a card they had all signed. In a very real way, these gifts didn’t fix my mom’s cancer. However, these gifts were tangible ways that I knew I was loved and supported. If you know someone is struggling, go out of your way to get them their favorite candy, or a small gift that reminds you of them. Every time they look at that gift they will know they are loved and not alone.
Whether you see someone once a week at BASIC or every single day, make sure you are there for them when they need you. For me this has looked like a fellow RA who pulled me out of bed when I was in a fetal position having a panic attack, got me to eat, and sat through my RA duty shift with me because she knew I couldn’t handle it alone. It also looked like a fellow BASIC student leader who saw me about to burst into tears about my mom’s diagnosis, pulled me into another room, and sat with me as I cried. It looked like that same person listening to me cry and scream on the phone in the middle of the night. It looked like a dear friend whose own mom has battled cancer, holding my hand when a speaker at BASICcon mentioned cancer. Be physically present for those you know are struggling, it can mean the world to them.
Sometimes what a person who is struggling needs most is space to process. As an introvert who struggles with depression and anxiety disorders, space is incredibly important to me. This may seem to completely contradict the last point to Be There. It’s important that as you give someone space, you also give them the assurance that you are there for them. Send an out of the blue text saying hi. Leave a small gift or note outside their door. When you do see them be sure they know they can count on you. Respect their need for personal space and time to process their pain, and be sure they know that when they are ready you will be there.
Galatians 6:2 says to “bear one another’s burdens,” and the best way to do this is by empathizing with those in pain. Research Professor Brené Brown who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and connection says that empathy is “feeling with people.” This is almost exactly what the author of Galatians says to do. Allow those struggling to feel their pain and walk with them through it. Remember that only the grace of God can heal, we are simply there to support one another through the journey. To learn more about empathy and how it differs from sympathy, watch more of Brown’s work (Here is my favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw).
If you are struggling today, find someone to talk to. Your BASIC advisor, a student leader, a trusted friend, a mentor, a pastor, a therapist—find someone who will do things like this list to help you, and will walk through your pain with you. Remember, you are not alone.