Do you know the least effective way to help someone? Try to immediately solve their problems. Tell them all the cliches for why bad things happen or why they're wrong. Argue your point of view. In my Season of Doubt, it wasn't an argument that helped, it wasn't a new strategy, it was something else entirely.
How often do we try to fix other people when what they really need is to be heard? I'm guilty of it, I know. Our knee-jerk reaction when someone shows us their struggle is to offer any insight we can. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it needs to be near the end of a very crucial series of events.
Here's the language that's actually compelled me to move forward when I've been at my lowest:
"I am so sorry for this pain. You are not alone. It's okay to be where you are. I'm not worried about you. I've been there before. I'm not here to fix you; I'm here to be with you. You are valuable. Let me share my story."
Encouragement is more influential than answers. Stories are more moving than stats. Living examples are more effective than instructions.
I think at our worst we just want someone to be truly present in that moment. To listen, empathize, affirm, encourage. We move into deep relationship with others and God when we see the rhythm for how relationships really work.
Many of you know my story, and at my turning point, when I finally submitted my need for knowledge and understanding, I prayed a simple prayer:
"I don't know what to do. Please help me. I will commit to helping others through this."
The next day the first person showed up, and numerous conversations have arisen out of nowhere since. It's amazed me every time and left me with a profound sense of gratitude for what I've experienced.
It's funny how before you go through trials or suffering "evangelism" feels like a scary task or something you have to go out and do. I've even heard people joke about making a Jesus-sale. But when you suffer and find the light despite that suffering, your story starts colliding with others in the most beautiful way possible, without even trying.
Suffering is one of the most common reasons people stop believing in God. How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow this to happen? Why would God answer my first-world prayers and not save the starving child in a third-world country? A lot of atheists even ask, "Why did God have to come down to sacrifice himself unto himself to save us from himself? Couldn't he just get over it and forgive us?" These are poignant questions, ones I still don't have complete answers to.
In my season of doubt these ideas were unsettling, but in the mystery of experiencing God personally, I now see suffering and the idea of God sending himself this way:
God chose to come and partake in the immense suffering that we brought into this world, so that we might experience the deepest relationship with him as someone who can not only fully empathize with our pain, but can overcome it.
Jesus, the great Empathizer. Jesus, the great Sufferer. Jesus, the great Friend. Jesus, the only one completely present in our suffering and deepest need. The greatest story. The best living example.