Addressing big problems with small acts of kindness — Terry Pluto

Saturday, November 10, 2007


A friend said he had to meet someone for coffee.

“This guy is a mess,” he told me. “He was abused as a kid. He’s smart but won’t really use his degree, just has a so-so job. He’s still married, but that’s rocky.”

That’s only the first chapter of a long, sad story.

“I really don’t know what to say to him,” my friend said.

The man had been through some counseling, so my friend knew to point him in that direction. But my friend also realized he was in for a long afternoon, even if it lasted only an hour.

As Catherine Pratt wrote in an article called “How to Deal With Negative Peo ple,” some of the peo ple in our lives “are human black holes” and can suck the life out of us.

“That’s very true,” said Knute Larson, pastor of The Chapel in Akron. “I ran into a guy last week. He had so many problems, you really didn’t know where to begin.”

So what should you do?

“If you can, you should go talk to the person,” Larson said. “And listen to them. And let them know that God loves them, and somebody does care about them. Just showing up can give them some hope.”

Larson said you obviously want to steer the person to a professional if the situation is serious. But there are times when the depressed person doesn’t want a counselor. He wants a friend. Or she wants someone to sympathize with her, not try to fix her.

“When you go, you do show the love of Christ for those in need,” he said.

The Rev. Robert Culp of Toledo’s First Church of God told the story of two men, one huge and the other small. They were staring at a big forest, where they knew they’d find some dangerous bears. “If I were as big as you, I’d go in there and take on the bear,” said the little guy, making it clear he had no intention of following his friend into the woods.

The big guy was silent for a moment, then said, “Listen, little fella, there are some small bears in there, too.”

Big problems should not scare us away from the small things we can do. We can’t cure those in the hospital, but we can visit and pray with them. We can’t stop a parent from aging, an Alzheimer’s patient from losing his mind. But we can hold that person’s hand. We can help fight off the little bears of despair, at least for an afternoon.

And there are other practical things we can do.

As Pratt wrote in her article on, if we are listening to someone whine and whine, we can stop that person and say, “Tell me something positive.” If we do that a few times, “the sob sisters won’t find you attractive anymore,” Pratt said.

Or they will begin to pull out of their funks. As Proverbs 10:21 reads: “The lips of the righteous nourish many.”

When a person starts to gossip, change the subject. Make it clear you don’t want to hear it, even if it’s true. Remember Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

You also can set a time limit, telling the person that you must leave at a certain time — and then stick to it.

Finally, as Pratt wrote, their problems are not your fault. Don’t let these people make you feel guilty. Just know to wrestle with any little bear that comes your way, and leave the big grizzly to God.

To reach Terry Pluto:, 216-999-4674

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