February 1, 2016
I imagine most of you have had this thought at some point. A friend suffers betrayal, loss, depression, illness, guilt, or the like and, though you are eager to help, you just don’t know how. For the last ten years, I have had the privilege of helping women who experience all manner of suffering. Below I share a few insights gained through both failed and blessed attempts of coming alongside sisters in Christ.
Be present. Let your friend know you are with her—in your thoughts, prayers, and actions. Prayerfully fight against feelings of inadequacy and help in practical ways. Be sensitive to what is most helpful and respond accordingly. Endeavor to hang in for the long haul.
Limit expectations. A person in crisis may not respond to suggestions, invitations, or help in the way you hope. This doesn’t mean she isn’t benefiting or grateful. Most often it means she is expending all her emotional and physical energy putting one foot in front of another and is left with no bandwidth for much else.
Listen. Before assuming you know what your friend is thinking and feeling, listen intently to her hurts, fears, longings and struggles. Do not allow your story or someone else’s to be the grid by which you interpret your friend’s situation. Suffering, though common, is intensely personal.
Pray, pray, pray. Pray for her circumstances to improve but, more importantly, for her heart in the midst of suffering—that she might not fall into despair, unbelief, anger or bitterness. Pray for the Lord’s comfort to be deep and real. Pray for your own heart—for wisdom, understanding of your finitude, perseverance, humility and gentleness. And, as often as possible, cry out to the Lord together.
Speak truth soaked in gospel hope. Your friend has no greater need than to hear God’s Word spoken into her suffering. Suffering often makes us self-referential, leading us to interpret everything in light of the prevailing hardship. Consistently and tenderly remind your friend of God’s sure promises. Patiently point her to Christ—his suffering, his redeeming power, and his intercession—as her greatest good.
There is so much more that can be said, but I pray these few insights can be a help to you the next time you are called to walk alongside a suffering friend. May the Lord, by his grace, enable us to enter the hard and messy places of one another’s lives for their good, our good and, most importantly, for his glory!