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Pastor Discovers Meaningful Way to Help Others in Pain

In an interview about his book The Folly of Prayer (IVP, 2009), author and pastor Matt Woodley shared a story about his friend Theresa. Theresa was experiencing what St. John of the Cross calls a dark night of the soul—a period of spiritual loneliness and despair. Over the course of describing her story, listen to how Woodley discovered that what seemed most helpless in his ministry was actually the most helpful:

After marrying the man of her dreams, [Theresa] dropped into the abyss of a deep depression. Everything went dark in her mind and body. She even started writing her obituary. Three years ago I would have had plenty of answers and solutions for her. I would have been so clever and powerful. But now I could only sit with her in her pain. We prayed. I didn't know what to do, didn't have any answers, so I said, "Theresa, I have no idea what to say, so could we just read the Psalms?" Then I read Psalm 77, an agonizing psalm of lament, and I went home. I left feeling utterly powerless, and I sure didn't think that I made her feel better.
The next week another leader of our church visited Theresa. She was still suffering intensely, but when the leader asked if he could pray for her, Theresa said, "Yes, but before you pray, please read Psalm 77. I've been clinging to it all week. It's my lifeline to God." Apparently when we read Psalm 77 in utter powerlessness, God showed up in her life with power.

Woodley adds: "At times the best, most powerful and most useful way to love someone is to get to the end of myself. I admit that I can't fix or change you. My words and my advice won't heal your brokenness. But I can be with you, and we can go together to the Father."

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