Caring Without Curing

Caring Without Curing

Caring for Others

Caring Without Curing

Or, “Sometimes a Story Is Just a Story”

By Lisa Jancarik

One of the most important aspects of Stephen Ministry training is learning how to listen to a person without necessarily trying to fix a problem under discussion. Solving a problem for someone who welcomes the assistance can make you feel like a hero. But how have you felt when you started casually contributing a story to conversation only to have your audience interrupt with a prescribed plan of action? Maybe you hadn’t identified a problem. Maybe the issue had already been resolved. I come from a family of “fixers”, so it happens to me all the time.

Unsolicited advice often just aggravates us, regardless of the loving intentions of the person offering it, and it can erode our willingness to communicate with our would-be advisors over time. We want the people we love to care, not necessarily to cure. Here are the key aspects of caring without curing:

  1. Be present. Give the person you care for your full attention while they are talking with you. I had a friend in high school who talked nonstop. When she had a bad day, she often felt much better after “we” talked, and I had been mostly silent but for an occasional “uh-huh.” My friend just needed the validation of someone’s attention, and all I had to do was show up.
  2. Listen. Don’t lose focus on the storyteller by trying to formulate a good response.
  3. Respect your storyteller’s personhood. In other words, understand that you don’t have – and shouldn’t want – control over the situation under discussion. This aspect of caring without curing is hard, especially when the storyteller makes choices you disagree with personally. However, when you can respect that person’s agency, then you provide a safe space to think out loud and to examine their situation without judgment.
  4. Trust that God is following the story, too. Outcomes aren’t always what we hope for or expect, but God has infinitely more influence on a situation than you do. Results like personal healing, increased faith, hope or a sense of peace only come from God. All you do is show up and do the other three things.

Naturally, we want the best possible outcome for a friend or family member who is struggling. However, we don’t have control over outcomes: God is in charge. What we can control is how comfortable we make people with sharing what’s on their minds.