4 Checkpoints for Wisely Helping Hurting Women

Years ago, when I was an inexperienced ministry leader, a woman with years of counseling experience mentioned a boundary she kept in her professional life. She wanted to remain emotionally healthy, so she placed guardrails on her availability to others. I don’t recall her exact words, but I do remember that my heart immediately responded with judgment! 

I assumed that counseling and caring for hurting people meant being as available as possible no matter the cost. Sure, I needed wisdom, but boundaries? No way! The idea seemed unloving, un-Jesus, and coldly professional.

Wow, was I wrong.

Years later, that seasoned leader’s words shape how I care for others. Like participants in endurance races need checkpoints to keep them on the right course, I benefit greatly by having ministry checkpoints.

They guide me to bear burdens wisely rather than following my feelings or letting the needs of others control me. Sisters, if you want to care wisely for hurting women, you need markers to ensure you’re on the right path!

Checkpoints to Follow the Right Path

Below are four checkpoints to keep in mind when a hurting woman seeks you out for help. Her burdens may be a combination of things that threaten her faith, joy, stability, and emotional, physical, spiritual, or mental health. She may be in the throes of marital infidelity, facing past sexual abuse, crushed with grief, disappointment or depression, enslaved to addictions, or in the middle of any of the various trials we face in this life. These checkpoints aren’t exhaustive, but they can help you stay on a ministry path that is focused on Jesus and fueled by the wise, discerning love Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9–11.

Checkpoint One: Develop a biblical understanding of bearing burdens.

The beautiful call to bear each other’s burdens is a ministry entrusted to the household of God. We come alongside whenever “anyone is caught in any transgression” to gently restore them through bearing their burdens (Gal. 6:1). 

The idea of bearing is more than just dealing with sin. It also includes helping someone bear the troubling and sorrowful consequences that accompany sin. Burden-bearing is one of the ways we faithfully live out the gospel: Christ’s life pouring through us to someone broken and bruised by the Fall. We lean into God, the only one who can daily bear our burdens (Ps. 68:19) without fail.

Paul goes on to say in Galatians 6:1, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” What specific temptations do you face when you’re invited into a painful situation? Perhaps pride, fear, or wanting to avoid and seek out a more comfortable ministry? Or you may wrestle with self-serving motives to help because of how it makes you feel and what kickbacks you get of praise or being needed. Perhaps like me, you fall prey to following your compassionate feelings rather than following the God of compassion’s direction! 

Sisters, rather than allowing sinful motives to drive us or taking responsibility for what only Jesus can do, we need to understand that wise burden-bearing is done through Him and for His glory so that others are drawn toward Him. This means that Jesus alone, not my ministry desires, spiritual gifts, or feeble reserves of compassion, are to lead me into a burden-bearing relationship.

Checkpoint Two: Learn the difference between teachability and manipulation. 

Hurting, sinful people sin against and bruise others in all kinds of ways. It’s a reality of life on this side of heaven that we can all respond sinfully to being sinned against! 

I’ve written before on tangled relationships. One of the gateways for well-intentioned ministry leaders to become entangled in messy relationships is to lack discernment as to whether a woman seeking help is teachable. She may be in the agony of deep anger, grief, or emotional pain and may or may not be ready or willing to receive godly help offered in a healthy way.

How do you discern teachability versus manipulation? A teachable woman will humbly receive what you offer. Manipulation demands that a helper fix, comfort, counsel, and love on its terms. A teachable heart recognizes that you are a helper; a manipulative one schemes to entice you to be the helper. Teachability manifests itself in recognition that she’s one person among many in your life; manipulation coerces with blame and shame to obligate you to invest more time, energy, and affection upon her.

Do my words sound harsh? I hope not. They’re based on my personal experience of being manipulated and being a manipulator myself! Sometimes women aren’t aware that they’ve developed these patterns. Sadly, this may be what was modeled for them, and so it’s become a way to seek out comfort and attention. Only God knows the motives in a hurting heart, so we can’t judge. We need the Spirit’s help to discern these dynamics so that we can respond wisely to someone’s cries for help by not running away or foolishly rushing in.

Checkpoint Three: Humbly acknowledge when you’re not equipped to help. 

Most of us who desire to serve others in Jesus’ name share a common weakness: it’s hard to say no because it doesn’t seem nice! However, it’s both godly and loving to recognize when someone’s troubles and needs are beyond our bandwidth of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. How can you discern if it’s best to redirect a woman to someone else for help? Consider these diagnostic questions and Scriptures.

  1. Is there a check in your heart to pause and pull back? Listen to the Holy Spirit! (John 16:13–15)
  2. Does this woman’s burden trigger something in you that stirs unease, past pain, or temptations in such a way that produces the fruit of struggle or unbelief in you? (Rom. 8:5–8; Gal. 6:7–9)
  3. Are you simply at a loss as to how to help her? Sisters, we all know that learning how to apply God’s wisdom to the brokenness of this world takes time. There is no embarrassment in being a leader who says, “I am so sorry for what you are facing. I’m not the best person to help you in the details of ____, but I’ll pray for you and help you find someone who is.” That’s beautiful humility! (Rom. 12:1–3; 1 Cor. 3:18–20)

One way you can do this well is to check out the Revive Our Hearts Leaders Page and develop a resource list of topics, counselors, and organizations that provide Christ-centered, biblical help for situations involving abuse, marriage struggles, addictions, sexual sin, emotional distress, and other tough issues. 

Checkpoint Four: Grow in discernment regarding the schemes of the enemy. 

Many of us can become unaware of our true enemy, the father of lies who is a lion seeking to devour us.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

The devil doesn’t play fair. Spiritual warfare may arrive obviously or it may slip subtly through back doors we’d never think to lock. Ministry-based relationships with needy women are one back door through which the enemy tries to attack me. (How else did I learn these checkpoints!) 

Satan’s main weapon is distorting the Word of God through lies and deceit. “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

Here’s how devotion for Jesus can be hijacked when you offer to bear a burden unaware of the enemy’s schemes:

  • Your times of prayer and Bible study become distracted by this woman’s needs. Jesus is effectively dethroned as Lord in your heart in the context of serving Him. 
  • Key relationships like family, accountability partners, or close friendships get put on the back burner because you think, She needs me and is desperate . . . I’m the only one who can help her! Wrong. You’re a helper, not her savior.
  • Your thinking and involvement with this person produce confused, cloudy, heavy, life-draining fruit in your life. This is not of the Lord!

God calls us to fulfill the law of Christ by laying down our lives as a worthy act of sacrifice for our Lord (Rom. 12:1–2), so we need to do so wisely! Consider these checkpoints and discuss them with a trusted friend. 

Remember: God never asks us to compromise our spiritual, emotional, or relational health for the sake of ministry. Never. So humbly fix your heart on Jesus, seek the Spirit’s guidance, receive counsel from others, and then move out in wise, faithful burden-bearing.


About the Author

Ellen Mary Dykas

Ellen Mary Dykas lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and serves as Director of Women’s Ministry for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality and gender. She writes and teaches on these topics and more, and has authored Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, and Toxic Relatonships: Taking Refuge in Christ. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word, and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus.