A while back I sat down to coffee with a friend from our church. They wanted to share with me some things that were going on in their life.

We had a few minutes of pleasantries and small talk while waiting in line for our drinks. But once we sat down at our table, my friend started right in on the reason they wanted to meet.

They started to explain what life had been like for them for the last few months. It was a story of heartache, pain, and loss. I was quickly overwhelmed by their story.

For the better part of an hour, I listened. I asked follow-up questions. I looked for ways to empathize with what they were experiencing and feeling. The one thing I didn’t do during the conversation was to try and help them. Over the last few years of being a pastor, I’ve actually stopped trying to help people.

If I were to have had this same conversation about eight years ago, as I listened, I would have been devising solutions to their situation in my head, ways to alleviate their pain, stress, anxiety, etc… Instead of asking questions in an attempt to better understand and empathize, I would have been throwing out pieces of my solutions to see if they latched on to any of my brilliant ideas.

Essentially, my old paradigm of ministry was that my job as a pastor was to fix people’s problems. And I was actually arrogant enough to think that I could fix their problems. If only they would follow my advice everything would work out fine. Over time, I’ve learned that what people need more than me fixing their problems is for me to be present with them in circumstances, whatever they might be.

Ultimately, it’s Jesus who sets things right. I don’t have the ability or capacity to fix their situation. And when I try to fix things for people, I lose sight of the one thing that I actually can do really well, I can be present.

On that afternoon, having coffee with my friend, what they really wanted (and needed) was simply for someone else to know. That’s it. They wanted someone else to know what they were experiencing and feeling, and that in the midst of it that they weren’t alone and were still loved.

So, next time a friend of yours wants to share with you what they are experiencing, don’t try to do anything in response. Just listen, Ask questions. Seek to understand. That might be more meaningful than anything else you could do to help.


5 Responses to “Why I stopped helping people.”

  1. John Certalic

    So well put. Being present and listening well is so much harder than trying to fix. It takes more out of us to be present than to come up with solutions, which most of the time the other person has already thought of. And some problems have no solutions this side of heaven. But as you state so well, knowing that someone else knows and cares is a great gift to someone who is hurting.

    • bryanmarvel

      Thanks John for reading and responding. I was thinking of you as I was writing this post. I thought it might resonate with you.

  2. Gail Tohde

    I love this, Bryan! Thanks for sharing! I had to learn this the hard way in my career as a Social Worker. I found myself being frustrated and feeling like a failure when I could not fix a situation. When I was able to change my mindset that the power of presence to a family with a loved one with dementia could be more valuable than trying to “fix” their situation, I felt I was able to be more helpful, and freer to share God’s love. Thanks for your perspective on this!

  3. judydziki

    Wise. “Ministry of Presence”. It’s a crushing weight to bear until God realigns our roles: listen, offer practical advice when asked and able, and pray. The realization that God is the only One with the shoulders (capacity), love, wisdom, and power big enough to bear these issues was an enormous relief to me.

    • bryanmarvel

      Thanks for reading and engaging Judy. It took quite a while for me to learn that lesson, but I’m so grateful I did.


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