This is the second part in my series on 5 life lessons that I learned from Labor Day weekend in 2005, while volunteering with efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
When we arrived at Baton Rouge and checked in for job assignments, my team was told that we were needed to comfort and encourage people at a medical clinic and at a shelter. I remember thinking, “What! I don’t know how to comfort people. I was expecting to do real stuff like clear brush, move supplies, or repair houses. I don’t know how to comfort people, let alone lead others in doing this. Give me a chainsaw instead.”
Then suddenly I was put at ease. I told my team that I was a bit anxious about this sort of work but encouraged them (and myself) that this just meant listening to people, understanding their struggles and pain, and giving plenty of hugs. I could do that.
Over the next two days I used my skills as best I could to look up information for people on the internet. I connected a mother to her daughter that was about to give birth in a hospital. I looked up phone numbers for distant family members. I sent email to people to let them know their family members were in our shelter. I searched through the lists of missing, safely found, and confirmed dead for names of their family and friends.
But, the bigger thing I did was that I took time to listen to each person who asked for my help. People were lonely, confused, and hurting. They wanted a friend who cared, even if it was only for a few minutes or hours.
I heard a elderly man tell me how he got out of his house, only to discover his wife didn’t follow him out immediately and was then trapped. He left his home absolutely helpless to save her. I could tell several others had similar experiences, but they couldn’t work up the courage to talk about it. Instead we’d exchange big bear hugs with understanding tears in our eyes.
Several other people told me how they had been estranged from their families in previous years and how that was so painful now when they needed them. Besides the trauma of the hurricane, the hurricane brought their normal, every day pain to the surface and they couldn’t ignore it as easily as normal.
People need compassion and relationship more than they need their questions answered or problems fixed. While it’s good to help people by serving them, everyone’s deepest needs are for love and relationship.
Lord, help me to see people’s need for love and relationship. Help me not get distracted with doing good things and miss really getting to know the people around me.
Am I the only one who struggles with this? Tell me about your experiences and struggles with this. We can encourage each other in this area.