I know I’m not the only one who has faced a heart-wrenching, life-altering announcement in my life. In fact, at this very moment, a friend sits in a waiting room aching to be mildly comforted by a muddle of confusing options in response to her husband’s recent heart attack.
Since we are talking about life’s storms this month on the blog, of course you know that my friend and I are not the only ones who’ve warmed those cold, cracked seats, huddled under blankets to keep our hearts from beating out of our chests during the grueling hours on opposite sides of life-or-death Operating Room doors. We are not the only ones who’ve questioned God, “Me? Our family? Are you sure? Because I’d rather not do this…but I will if this is Your way.” (See Matthew 26.)
One thing is certain: today you either find yourself as the one needing support or you are that someone’s friend, holding elbows to keep her on her feet through rickety, slippery steps; brushing back ragged hair from tear-stained eyes; and grasping white-knuckled fingers while she answers the doctor’s phone call with the other hand.
If you are a friend supporting someone who is suffering, you are important! Your friend needs you now more than ever! Here are four tips to help you help your friend in these difficult days.
1. Be there. Don’t think that it’s someone else’s job or assume your friend’s mom, sister, coworker, neighbor, Bible study leader, etc. will be there. They very well might be! But that doesn’t mean that you are not needed too. If someone close to you in your life is going through intense difficulty, vow to be present with them. Be willing to get into the mess that she may feel. Suffering isn’t contagious, but it’s much lighter shared.
2. Know when to be silent. Know when to speak. When you are present at your friend’s side, when you step into that ICU room, when you wait in the hospital lobby, say everything you want to say before you get there and only to yourself.
Some people, afraid to say the wrong thing regarding the incidence, talk about the weather or the traffic or whatever. Even dry, unrelated conversation isn’t helpful. Silence can often bring the firmest presence and the loudest message.
Remember that these are sacred, fragile times you’re sharing with your loved one. No need to ruin the time with your story of your secretary’s cousin’s brother who faced something sort of similar that one time… And besides, when your friend is ready to talk you’ll already be listening.
There is also a time to speak. When you pass each other at church or run into each other at the store, don’t ignore her out of uncertainty. I know it can feel awkward, not wanting to say the wrong thing, but say something. Let your friend know that you are aware of the struggle she’s in. A simple, “I’m sorry” or “Our family has been praying,” reminds her that she’s walking this hard road loved well by a community of other believers.
3. Suggest specific ways you are willing to serve your friend. Honestly, people living in survival mode don’t readily know how to communicate their needs. How can they remember that the yard isn’t getting mowed or even that their other child will need dinner later that evening? The capacity for normalcy isn’t always there.
So instead of a general, “Let me know if you need anything,” however sincere, suggest an activity that might need doing. “Can I drop dinner off for you this week?” “I set up someone to mow your yard and I picked up your mail.” “I’ll be happy to stop by Tuesday night and do your laundry.”
4. Invite your friend over to create a space where you can listen without judgment. Suffering can be isolating. Make a place in your home for your friend or loved one to talk about her experience by asking her and her family to dinner, inviting her for morning coffee, or asking her to walk the neighborhood together.
Then when your friend expresses disbelief, heartache, and transparent struggles, listen, affirm feelings, and pray. Let her know, “I’m here to listen” or, “I want to better understand what you’re going through right now.” Do not try to preach away the faith journey that she might be on.
I highly valued two friends who, after three weeks of incessant bad news regarding Annie where doctors finally told us to “enjoy today,” I could share my deep grief and disbelief with. I remember texting them, “I keep praying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can heal.’ But for some reason He won’t.”
It wasn’t time for them to text me James 1:2-4 or Romans 8:28. It was time for them, as they fittingly did, to text back, “I don’t understand it either.” We often feel compelled to jump in or say something to fix things or change the subject. Try to refrain from those urges, and give your friend or loved one some judgment-free airtime without offering a “solution.”
There is someone in your life who needs you right now. Be the one she can count on. Be willing to walk this road with that friend. Please be Jesus to that friend today, not with words or preaching or vain promises to pray. Be Jesus by being there to lavish unconditional love and service when it’s most needed.