When a Hug is Not Enough

When a Hug is Not Enough

Written By Cathie Smith

When a Hug is Not Enough

(*This is not intended to take the place of medical care. Some situations may require care beyond what we have the skills to provide.)

“…[M]any people know what it’s like to care deeply, but do not know what to do after the hug.”[1]

These past several years have, at times, been filled with heartache, despair, and a great sense of loss. During difficult seasons, even believers can find themselves paralyzed with sorrow over world events and personal circumstances. Sometimes a hug is just what one needs to breathe again, regroup and move forward. But what about those times when a hug is not enough, and we need to offer more? What do we do?

An excellent place to start is to create a space to grieve.[2] Sometimes believers think it is sinful to grieve or mourn. Yet throughout the Bible, we see many examples of lament and its importance (David, Elijah, Job. etc.). In fact, a little over a third of Psalms are Psalms of lament! (see Psalms 13, 73, 77, 88, etc.)[3]. As you create space for another to grieve, listen with your heart and with your ears. Listen for content rather than listening just to respond. Show compassion and pay attention to details.

Second, offer hope [4] (1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 Peter 1:3). Help the other person see Christ in their story again and to see from an eternal perspective.[5]  Remind them they are not alone (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Third, listen for unbiblical thinking.[6] This includes listening for ideas that contradict the truths of God’s Word and thoughts that are not consistent with God’s character. Rather than preaching a sermon or giving a dissertation, this is more of an interactive time, helping the other person to apply the truth of the Scripture to their life story. Use the whole Gospel narrative and avoid single verses that could easily be taken out of context. Listen for one’s spiritual condition as well as what voices they are listening to – God’s or man’s?

Fourth, ask for a response.[7] Have a time frame for your friend to check back with you (and follow up if they don’t).  Give “homework” such as looking at specific psalms, writing out a prayer of lament, looking at the character of God, or writing down who God says we are in Christ.  Be creative and practical, keeping the personality of the person and their mental and physical energy level in mind.

Fifth, be intentional and follow through. If you said you were going to pray for your friend, do it! If you offered to help with specific chores, mark your calendar!  Enlist the help of the local church as well as other believers. 

Six, praise the Lord even in the difficulty (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As believers, we have a living hope that is eternal. Although a hug will not always be enough to help a friend through her rough patch, God is our refuge, strength, shepherd, and Father.

Seven, trust God with the results. God requires obedience, not results from us. As we trust the Lord with our heartache and the heartache of others, He brings comfort and healing, all for His glory and honor. The God of comfort meets the hurting where they are, even when a hug is not enough (2 Corinthians 1:1-11).

Sometimes in life, a hug just isn’t enough. However, as ambassadors of Jesus, we have great hope we can offer to those who are grieving and hurting.  As we seek to live out the truth of the Gospel, we can help others connect (or re-connect) to the Father.  As we listen with our heart, we don’t just dispense scripture, but we take the time to connect, grieve, lament, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us who are hurting. 

If you would like more training options or ways you can learn even more about how to counsel the Word to those who are hurting or grieving, here are some great options:

  1. https://swbts.edu/degree/certificate-in-biblical-counseling/
  2. https://biblicalcounseling.com/training/certification
  3. https://biblicalcounseling.com/resource-library/

[1] Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 13.

[2] Brad Bigney, “Biblical Sorrow without Sinful Complaining,” Association of Certified Biblical Counselors website, April 8, 2020, https://biblicalcounseling.com/biblical-sorrow-without-sinful-complaining/.

[3] Bigney, “Biblical Sorrow without Sinful Complaining.”

[4] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 1973), 40, 46; John Babler, “Biblical Counseling Certification Training Manual” (Fort Worth, TX: SWBTS, n.d.), 17.

[5] Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling, 90-91 and Kellemen, Equipping Counselors for Your Church: The 4E Ministry Training Strategy (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2011), 221.

[6] Babler, Johnson, and Kim, “Foundations in Biblical Counseling,” in Counseling by the Book, rev. and exp. ed., ed. John Babler and Nicolas Ellen (Fort Worth: CTW, 2014), 55; Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 193; and Babler, “Biblical Counseling Certification.”

[7] See Kellemen, Equipping Counselors, 144, 190; Robby Gallaty, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2013), 151-52; and Tripp, Redeemer’s Hands, 326.

About the Author

Cathie Smith
Women's Ministry Director, CSBC

Cathie holds a bachelor’s degree in family development from Oklahoma Baptist University, and a master of divinity and doctor of educational ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For 10 years, Cathie and her husband served primarily in Spain with the International Mission Board, however, Cathie’s international missions service also includes Ecuador, Japan and Guatemala. She is the mother of 3 children, (2 grown and 1 still at home) and she serves as the Women's Ministry Director for CSBC.

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