Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart: How to Relate to those who are Suffering by Dr. Kenneth C. Haughk

Suffering is part of life. We are broken people living in a world shattered by sin, and the shards grind together and nobody escapes without the scars to prove it.

Dealing with suffering is a difficult enough thing when we’re the ones who are suffering. It can be just as painful or even more so to have a friend or loved one who is suffering. Our desire is instinctively to remove the hurt, to counteract the sorrow. Instinctively we know that suffering is not what God intended us for, and sometimes our desire to lead the suffering person into a better place can drive us to do things that are not only not comforting, they actually amplify the injury and suffering of the other person.

Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart is a very practical and helpful guide. Based on personal experience and survey data, Dr. Haugk lays out fundamental principles for how to best be with someone who is suffering. His underlying assertion is that we must enter into the suffering of the other person, and that premature, superficial, or theologically dangerous attempts to yank the person out of their suffering are harmful.

The book’s tips are very concrete. Say this. Don’t say this. If you are dealing with someone who is suffering, this book can help you be a genuine friend, a gift to the sufferer despite the fact that you don’t feel adequate and in acceptance of the reality that suffering and grief is a process that everyone has to work through. Attempting to force someone out of grief – even for a brief period of time – can be very counterproductive.

The emphasis of this book is on how to be with someone who is suffering. It is not a manual for assisting someone else in dealing with their grief and suffering constructively. While it is ideal for someone involved with (or starting) a ministry of comfort to the suffering or grieving, it is insight and advice that is beneficial to anyone and everyone. It discusses why some of our instinctive ways of trying to be with a suffering person are wrong, and offers more reflective and intentional alternatives.

It’s a short (150 pages) and easy read. It makes no assumptions about professional training, practical experience, or anything else. It will be either an eye-opening aid to the bewildered person first dealing with someone who is suffering profoundly, or a good refresher for someone who has spent years working with suffering people.

It may be tempting for some to write off this type of book as appropriate only to older people dealing with medical or family issues that cause suffering. However I think most young adults will readily admit that they understand suffering all too well. The damaging elements of dating relationships, expectations at home, school, and work, the pain of being laid off from a job or being unable to find work, the loneliness of relocating for school or work – all of these are common situations for young adults. Every congregation has the potential to provide a place where these forms of suffering are understood, and where Christians of all ages can be encouraged to be honest with their feelings rather than simply pasting on a Happy Face every Sunday morning and pretending that life is peachy. Allow someone to be hurt, sad, frustrated, fearful, and you have the potential of bringing the very real peace of Christ through the Gospel to them. It’s hard to be a better friend than that.