Helping someone affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is challenging, but there is hope. “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).
Lay ministers, parents, and other caretakers do well to love by listening, working to understand past trauma and current circumstances. Early on, avoid the temptation to correct faulty thinking. Trying to correct wrong thinking at this point can be counterproductive and provoke defensiveness.
Instead, patiently ask appropriate follow-up questions and assure them you’re going to walk with them through hard places. Your committed presence and gentle understanding help build trust—which is essential for you to be heard in your walk together.
You may be tempted to comfort someone by minimizing (or maximizing) ACEs in that person’s life. There is a time to lovingly speak context into her trauma—AFTER you understand the situation AND have biblical truth clear in your own mind. In the earliest stages, genuine, calm compassion carries the day.
The duration and intensity of someone’s ACEs and her level of healthy coping skills can affect her ability to address developmental gaps. As you demonstrate caring presence, establish trust, and gain clarity, THEN you can speak truth in love—all with a goal of helping the person grow through living out the biblical insights of the Gospel.
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