Walking with the Hurting Woman

Walking with the Hurting Woman

The wind whispers light across the windshield; my thoughts wander to the expansive fields outside my window. Beautiful country estates line the quiet highway, handsome horses grazing content on fine blades of Kentucky bluegrass. The scene arrests my heart, settles my mind into this quietly comfortable place.

She drives me to a lake in eastern Kentucky, my Life Coach Kelly Thorne Gore. We’d spent the last two days together, processing both where I’d been and where I wanted to go.

Together we round the back of the car; Kelly handing me a basket of stones and a black marker, instructing me to write words on stone that represent lingering pain.

She waits alone while I walk alongside the deep, v-shaped stream that feeds into the still lake waters nearby. How could she have known this sort of heart-mind-soul connection I have with water—the peace and sense of safety it stirs?

Consciously, intentionally, I dare to pen my brokenness onto various stones.

I’m not enough.

It was my fault.

I’ll only fail anyway.

Years of hurts and hang-ups display now in dark ink on random crystallized pieces of earth, big and small, spotty and unblemished. My bucket full, I head down to the lake–the last instruction Kelly had given. One by one I toss my stones into the waiting waters. With each throw, the pain somehow lifts out of my heart and transfers into the ripples piercing the still blue.

The simple act of releasing these words of brokenness triggered some lengthy prayers I’d been praying; the exercise  somehow discharging a weighty burden, welcoming a new freedom.

That’s not always how it goes. I’ve seen it far too often, how hurts can harden a heart.

How do we effectively reach them, how do we tenderize the hurting woman’s untrusting bent? How do we get them to roll away the stone and experience the life waiting just on the other side?

It seems so hard sometimes, this encouraging the broken. Until I consider this, how Mary and Martha felt when Jesus asked to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb. With a fresh pain stirring, these girls were more than a little concerned about the stench that lay inside.

It’s much the same for a hurting heart, this foulness that sometimes lingers.

We women break easy when those who are supposed to love us hurt instead, when folks hurt our feelings, when we’re bullied or silenced.

How do we become this aroma that leads them to Life?

  1. Lead by example. Line up what you say with what you do. As we share story, be sure to include the hard stuff. It helps others to see how God is in those messy places too, those times things don’t turn out like we think the should. Let them see how you feel as you face disappointment and frustration, and this will build a foundation of trust.
  2. Offer insight as a friend, not an expert. Authentic relationship can earn you a spot that others may never get—the chance to speak truth in love. The opportunity to challenge and help them reshape their thoughts, words, and actions.
  3. Don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. Remain objective enough to help. An empathetic ear hears the hurting heart and comes to an understanding outside of her vortex of pain. If we grow too sympathetic, we can become weak ourselves, fall in the ditch with them.
  4. Consider your level of response. Don’t story-swap. When others have a problem, we tend to rehash our own as a way of validating theirs. Sharing the fact that you had a toothache last week doesn’t help her toothache this week, trust me.  Refrain so they can talk freely about their own pain. You don’t have to have the answers, but be ready to point her to folks that can help on a deeper level.
  5. Make room. My friend and women’s ministry leader Cherie Zack often begins a healing conversation by asking ladies the first word that pops into their mind about how they feel. This helps them assess their “right now” and that self-discovery is a great place to start. As Cherie says, “Sometimes they need to hear their words first. Not ours.”


That day at the lake, Kelly fostered a culture of spiritual sensitivity, creating room for God to move in my heart. As encouragers willing to walk alongside others in the hard patches of life, our goal should be similar, to simply to help them “see” the invisible One, the God who holds the answers to life’s hurts.

Deeper Still: What have you found as encouragement when you are hurting? Or what ways have you reached out to the wounded woman?


{For more slices of hope for the hard days, consider Jo Ann’s book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice: Overcoming Life’s Hurts & Using Your Story to Make a Difference. }

14 thoughts on “Walking with the Hurting Woman

  1. Jo Ann,

    I feel like this post reflects our conversations over the past few months. Thank you for being empathetic to my needs and thank you for sharing yours with me. So blessed by your friendship and example.

  2. This one: don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. I do this. My husband worries when I do this. I feel so deeply that their pain becomes mine. I know God wants me to use it somehow but I’m still trying to let Him lead me in that direction. Thank you for writing this post. It speaks directly into what I need and feel. <3

    • Tina,

      I feel this one heart-deep right alongside you. Your compassion runs deep; it is a gift to us all. I pray God grants you ongoing discernment as you share your gift with us.


  3. I find that I have to really listen and wait before I share anything from my life that may be helpful. It could easily become a time of story-swapping instead of listening deeply and waiting for her to be receptive to the truth from God’s word, and/or pointing her to the resources she might need. Such a great point. Thanks!

    • Oh Gay, I imagine most of us would say the same. It seems natural to share our pain as even a comfort to others, and I believe it can be a comfort. I know it can. It is a delicate balance, indeed. Praying this for all of us who long to encourage the hurting heart.

  4. These tips are perfect! A post that I will read often as God puts people in my life who are hurting. It’s always tough to know how to handle each situation. Listening and having empathy along with encouraging them without making them feel like they are wrong for feeling as they do. Thank you so much for these words! I love the stone idea… May use that myself!

  5. i really needed to read this tonight. as i have been on both sides of this here lately. i am going to have to try the stone thing. thank you for posting this. it was a much needed read. and i loved every bit of it. you are a wonderful woman of God and im going to have to get your book and read it. be blessed

  6. When I have been in the most despair it is so comforting when I hear I am praying for you and they truly and sincerely mean it.
    It is not comforting to me to have them giving me a list of what I should be doing, should be feeling or so on and so forth such as they have to tell me all about their trials and tribulations.
    That is fine when I ask but when I am most down it is hard to find an individual who can just be there with you and perhaps listen without making comments and or suggestions until asked to. I realize how hard it is as I try doing so in honoring my nieces and others when they reach out to me in their difficult times.

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