How Do We Minister Slow Hope?
Walking with Friends on the Marathon After Abuse
When we face a crisis, we both desperately want and are intensely skeptical toward hope. We want to know that things will eventually be better. But we inherently mistrust those who say, “Everything is going to be okay.” It feels like they’re minimizing the problem. We experience this with the coronavirus crisis, and we experience this with the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
One of the things we glean from this is the power of hope. The influence of hope is too great to be treated cavalierly. As Christians, because of the ultimate hope we have in Christ, we tend to be triumphalistic in how we speak of hope toward major temporal concerns. If we’re guaranteed heaven, what on earth really matters? This rhetorical question can be both true and unhelpful at the same time.
This attitude causes us to be poor ambassadors of Christ in the midst of a crisis. In effect, we become like an orthodontist who promises to completely realign a teenager’s crooked teeth in less than a month. While initially appealing, we quickly realize that, even if possible, this remedy would be too painful to endure. In the midst of a crisis, this is how our appeals to fast hope sound.
In our administration of hope we should follow the guidance of James regarding speech, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak (1:19).” Too often, we only attach giving hope to the words we say, and neglect the power of giving hope found in the words we hear. Listening to someone is profoundly hope giving.
What is a primary prayer of someone in crisis? “Hear me. Believe me. Let me know I am not alone. Let me know I am worth caring for.” We best embody God’s response to these prayers with attentive ears and compassionate eyes. Remember few things alleviate shame like empathetic eye contact from someone who knows what makes you feel ashamed.
We must realize that slow hope is not weak or lesser faith. The journey after sexual abuse is a marathon, not a sprint. Fast hope reveals that we do not realize the journey on which we are joining our friend. Slow hope ministers out of Matthew 11:28-30 (i.e., “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden”) more than Isaiah 40:31 (i.e., “you will mount up with wings like eagles). Both are biblical. But one is a better theme verse for a marathon, while the other is better suited for a sprinter.
How to minister hope
This reflection begs the question, “How do we minister slow hope?” We have already mentioned the power of listening. The suggestions are really just extensions of listening well.
Get to know your friend’s experience. Too often we think the event of abuse is the totality of what needs to be known about the experience of abuse. Often, we are hesitant to ask about the event of abuse. We realize those details are better addressed by law enforcement or a counselor. But, when a friend entrusts us with their story, we should ask about their experience of abuse.
- What relationships—specific people or types of relationships (i.e., dating or authority figures)—have become more difficult?
- What unpleasant emotions are more prevalent? What pleasant emotions are less prevalent?
- How have your sleeping and eating habits been affected?
- How many people do you feel like you can talk to when these things are hard? How many people would you like to be able to talk to?
This list is not exhaustive. But, hopefully, you can begin to see that showing interest in these questions validates that your friend is on a long, hard journey. It says through actions, rather than words, “You are not alone on this journey.” That gives hope.
Ask, “Are you ready for the next step.” Sometimes, as your friend receives guidance on their legal or counseling journey, the next step will be clear, but your friend won’t be ready to take that step. Completing one step sometimes puts us in a position to rest before we take the next one.
If our friend was recovering from knee surgery, we would get this. If they just finished a rehab session where they got full range of motion and the next step was to walk a flight of stairs, we wouldn’t rush them. We would celebrate the step taken, encourage them to listen to their doctors, and let them know it’s okay to take recovery at their pace. Alleviating this kind of internal drive to go too fast removes a frequent hope-depleter.
Be present for key events. There are many key events on the journey after sexual abuse: talking to police, each part of the legal process, calling to set an appointment with a counselor, and even attending church can be a key event. Hard things are easier—not easy—with a friend. Periodically ask your friend, “What events are coming up that you don’t want to do alone?”
The nature of abuse is that it happens alone. Privacy is a near necessary factor to allow for abuse. This means that being alone during a key event is about more than loneliness. It is an echo of the context that allowed abuse to happen. It screams, “The world hasn’t changed.” Your presence gives hope that the world is changing.
Ask about milestones on your friend’s nonpublic journey. Not everything that is significant on your friend’s journey is significant. Yes, there is a tension in the previous sentence. When only the abuse-related big things in your friend’s life get attention, it can feel like their life is being reduced to their experience of abuse in a new way.
Showing interest in a new hobby, a step toward making a new friend, a promotion at work, and other comparable life events allows your friend to realize, “I am more than my experience of abuse.” This is incredibly hope giving.
Engage with your friend’s non-journey joys. In addiction counseling, this might be called “occupational therapy,” meaning learning to healthily occupy oneself with enjoyable activities. When a life struggle has been life dominating it consumes our life-giving activities. In this sense, going out to dinner with a friend is very therapeutic.
While your friend is putting a great deal of emotional energy into their recovery or the legal process, ask, “What things do you enjoy that I could regularly invite you to do with me?” Friends can be a great excuse and reminder to enjoy life. But we should always add, “If my invitation is more than you have capacity for, I will never be offended if you take a raincheck.” But enjoying life and having someone who wants to enjoy life with you is hope giving.
I know this article isn’t as profound and transformative as you hoped it would be. But that’s kind of the point. After a crisis, the best hope is patient hope. Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4. I will take the liberty of emphasizing one word.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Why did I choose to emphasize the word “walk”? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting—the valley of the shadow of death—does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep sets the pace.
If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal of the destination cause us to harm the sheep that have been entrusted to our care. That is what this reflection has been about: helping us pace our efforts to care well for the needs of those who have been hurt.