Monday, May 20, 2013

When the Shepherd Herself is in Pain

By Dr. Bev Hislop

My husband’s words caught me off guard. “Honey, I just got a call from the doctor and she wants me to come in tomorrow for an angiogram.”

Five years prior the doctor suggested we track progress with the possibility of the need for a heart valve repair in the future. Apparently “the future” was here.

My husband’s heart valve repair surgery was scheduled for Thanksgiving week.

I recall returning home alone the night before the early morning surgery. As I crawled into bed and looked at the empty pillow next to me, I cried out to God, “Is this how it’s going to look now? Or will you fill this empty place again with my dearest friend on the planet, my husband?”

As a friend said to me recently, “Bev, you’ve written Shepherding Women in Pain, but how does it work when the shepherd is in pain?”

Well-meaning friends said to me
  • “You teach pastoral care, you’ll know what to do.”
  • “My uncle also had an open heart surgery and he survived fine. He has since gone to be with the Lord. Your husband will do fine. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.” (Her uncle was dead! Is that supposed to be comforting? Easy for you to say “He’ll be fine!” How do you know?)
  • “God never gives us more than we can bear.” (Not comforting at the outset and where is this verse anyway?!)
  • “I know exactly how you feel. Just keep praying.” (No one can know exactly how another feels.)
  • “If there’s anything you need, let me know.” (Putting one foot in front of the other was about all I could do.)

When the shepherd herself is in pain, as I was then, often we do not receive the answers for which we are searching, but we begin to see God in a new light. Oh, it’s not God who has changed, rather he’s opened our eyes to see him more accurately: his true character, rather than the caricature in which we’ve been trusting.

Typically at the first impact of loss (real or threatened), few words are best. Presence counts more. Sometimes silence can be comforting. Don’t feel you have to have just the right thing to say. It may minister to someone in extreme pain to receive (verbally or in writing) one of the following simple expressions:

  • I am praying for you (if you really are!)
  • I don’t know what to say (acknowledges how hard this is).
  • I love you. I care about you & your family (if you do).
  • I’m concerned about you. You mean a lot to me and I want to help (offer specific help).
  • I wanted to come here (to the hospital) and just be with you (without feeling like you have to keep a conversation going non-stop).

I am so grateful that the pillow beside me is now filled nightly with the presence of my dear husband.
The gift of family and friends sitting with us in the hospital and then visiting during the six month recovery in our home is a lingering sweetness. The reality of my husband’s presence is even more endearing as I recall those intimate times with my Savior.

What expressions of care and/or conversations with God have been most meaningful to you during a time of anticipated or real loss?

Dr. Bev Hislop is Professor of Pastoral Care to Women and the Founding Director of the Women’s Center for Ministry at Western Seminary in Portland, OR She is the author of Shepherding Women in Pain. You can order her book at


  1. Thank you, Bev this was very good and so true. Thank you for investing in the lives of so many, mine included. May God give you many more years with your beloved. - Wendy Ashenbrenner

  2. Thank you for educating us about what to say & NOT to say to someone that is hurting. So good to know. My first thoughts usually are "I don't know what to say" cuz it's the truth! :-)

    I'm always jealous of wives that are married to their best friends. I can only wish that I knew what that was like.

    I appreciate your ministry! HUGS! :-)

  3. Hi Bev, I so appreciate your insights and vulnerability. By no means is this a self-promotion, but you may be interested in purchasing my book, "The Ben Ripple; Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose" (available on Amazon). It candidly tells of my journey through my 18-year-old son's battle with leukemia. But more related to your story, it includes multiple "practical tip" segments throughout much like those you've so beautifully and succinctly communicated. May God bless you for faithfully extending His comfort from the comfort you've received (2 Cor. 1:2-4). Lisa Elliott (London, Ontario CANADA -

  4. When I am hurting or in pain...especially severe pain, my conversations are often the groans of the Holy Spirit interceding for me. It's comforting to know that God knows what I am coming to him for, even if I can't put it in words. When I am hurting, I mainly want someone just to be there with me - to listen and abide with me. Thank you for sound advice!