Having been in pastoral ministry for a while now, I have noticed certain predictable patterns when crisis strikes a person. These are patterns on how others respond to the situation and respond to these people. I find that responses generally fall into one of five categories (that I will look at below).
Personally, I am currently experiencing somewhat of a personal crisis. While now is not the time to go into the details (I promise I will soon), I have noticed that people react to me in pretty much the same five ways.
>> A PARIAH to avoid.
Some people tend to respond to crisis in a person’s life by treating them like a pariah — an untouchable. This can come through avoidance, denial, or just ignoring the situation. This is very common and not helpful.
>> A PROBLEM to solve.
Other people quickly fall into “problem solving mode”. The person and the crisis (whether it be health crisis, relational crisis, family crisis, situational crisis, or a crisis of the person’s own making) become a problem to solve. While this can seem helpful — and sometimes can be of practical assistance — you also need to be careful of this. Being treated as a “problem to solve” can be as dehumanizing as being treated as a “pariah.” The “problem to solve” (or the “problem we need to make go away”) is a common institutional response to crisis. When we are in this mode, we may be tempted to say things like “this is all God’s timing” or “it may seem bad now, but someday you will be thankful for this experience.” Now whether these things are true or not is kind of irrelevant — they are not helpful. Crisis is not a time for bumper-sticker theologies or pat answers. Resist the temptation to lecture, theologize, or become a living Hallmark card.
>> A PROJECT to take on.
Similiar to the “problem” paradigm, the “project” paradigm can also seem like a good idea, but rarely is. The big difference between “problem” and “project” is that the general goal of the “problem” paradigm is to make “it” (crisis… person… etc) go away, while the “project” paradigm is focused on “fixing” the person or crisis. No one likes to be someone else’s project — it just doesn’t work.
>> A PRAYER Concern to pray for.
Sometimes people have no idea what to do or say, so they treat the person and crisis as simply a “prayer concern” or prayer request. While prayer is always a really good thing, the person tends to be forgotten in this equation relatively quickly as other, more pressing, prayer concerns arise (as they always do). It is relatively easy to pray for a crisis/person for a few days, but then we generally stop. But making it through a life crisis takes weeks, months, and sometimes years — and often people get forgotten in the midst of it.
>> A PERSON — a real, live person!
The best option when dealing with a person in crisis is to simply treat them like a human being — a real person. That means listening, asking questions, having normal conversations, being honest, and addressing the tension. If you don’t know what to say, simply say that. That’s how real people interact together. In crisis, people need people. As my friend J.R. says, you need to be around “happy faces”. I would say it this way: in crisis, people want to be with real people and to be treated like a real person.
Now let me say that over the last several weeks as I have been going through a personal crisis (and again, I will post more on this later when I can), I have been blessed with some great friends and to be surrounded by some amazingly gracious people. A ton of people have reached out to me by email, phone, texting, Facebook messages, and invitations to hang out. I can’t tell you how appreciated these often small gestures are. They humanize in the midst of that which is inherently a dehumanizing experience. (So thanks!)
But there are definitely some people who fall into the other categories too. I don’t blame them. I have done the same thing in other situations and with other people’s crisis.
What has your experience been when you have been in a life crisis situation?
What have you done for others who are in life crisis?