by Rick Howerton
While many people enjoy the holiday season more than any other time of the year, there are others who struggle to find any joy in it at all. In fact, for many people, this time of year is devastating and debilitating. A broken relationship, a haunting seasonal memory, the death of a friend or family member, or the inability to bless their family with the kind of gifts others are receiving plants a dark cloud over many, especially when they are seeing the masses celebrating passionately when they are hurting deeply.
So how does a small group leader show the love of Christ to those who are living in the midst of the dark night of the soul?
1. Be an active listener while disciplining yourself not to give advice.
For many in this situation, all they need is a listening ear. They need the opportunity to share with someone what they’re feeling and why they’re hurting so deeply. Allow them to say anything they need to say without telling them what they need to do. You can’t fix what’s broken, but you can help them release of some of their emotional intensity.
2. Exercise the ministry of “presence.”
For many, aloneness is what causes their greatest pain. Invite the person to your home to spend the evening without any agenda in mind. In fact, it may be best just to invite them to come for dinner and spend the evening with you and your family.
3. Worship with the hurting individual.
If the person you’re aiding is single, or they’re single when they attend worship at the church (their spouse doesn’t attend church), simply invite them to sit with you. In the presence of God, emotions often flow freely allowing you to be there to comfort them and, in many instances, allowing you to be there and encourage them to trust God in the midst of their darkness.
4. Text words of encouragement often.
Texting has opened the door to encourage in the moment when we don’t have the time for elongated conversations. Use this approach wisely. Don’t bombard the person with statements telling them that it will all work out (this is a promise you can’t honestly make), or that they just need to claim God’s promises. By the way, once a day would be best, twice a day would be optimal.
5. Invite the individual to celebrate the holiday with you—if it’s appropriate in your situation.
That is, if the person is going to spend the holiday alone. Be certain this is agreed to by your family, as many families prefer to spend the holiday with relatives only.
Rick Howerton is the South Central Regional Consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought-after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual as well as A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. He is also the co-author of Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making and Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. But Rick’s deepest passion and his goal in life is to see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.”