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Understanding the Need

Understanding the Need - Responding with Compassion


True caring begins with an understanding of the other’s needs and concerns. Effective caring addresses the actual need, rather than the perceived need.

“A beloved, old Hassidic rabbi was confronted by one of his youthful disciples. “I love you, my master!” the youth said.

The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?”

The young man was puzzled. Composing himself he stuttered, “I don’t understand your question, Rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you meant to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.”

“My question is neither confusing, nor irrelevant,” rejoined the Rabbi. “For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you love me?”

(Walking on Water
by Madeline L’Engle)

True caring responds with a considerate, thought-out, compassionate plan.

“In 587 B.C. Jeremiah the prophet landed in a cistern as punishment for predicting Jerusalem’s capture by the Babylonians. Such a punishment was life-threatening. But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite eunuch, intervened.

He approached King Zedekiah and bravely declared, “These men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet.” (Jer. 38:9) Ebed-Melech was persuasive. With the king’s authorization, he recruited 30 men (38:10) to life Jeremiah from the cistern.

Rather than dashing to the cistern, Ebed-Melech detoured to the royal rag room to secure old rags and worn out clothes. When he arrived at the cistern, he dropped the life-saving rope to Jeremiah but also cascaded him with the rags, telling him, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” (v. 12)

What an example of creative sensitivity! Jeremiah had been lowered into the cistern by ropes. Those ropes had possibly burned or broken his skin, particularly under his arms. Yanking Jeremiah out of this cistern could cause more rope burns and injury, possibly serious infection. Ebed-Melech not only was concerned about getting Jeremiah out of the well but also wanted to do so without further injuring the prophet.

An important goal in grief sharing is not simply to extract people from cisterns of grief as quickly as possible, especially since grief ministry is time-consuming and inconvenient. It’s to ‘pad the ropes’ so the reaved are not further injured. “

hen You Don’t Know What to Say, by Harold Ivan Smith)