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Pain, suffering, fear. These are all weighty words and emotions that can shake even the most sure-footed person in the blink of an eye. It is one thing to wrestle with these weight emotions, and it is quite another to watch a friend process through these feelings. While we all want to help, do you really know how to help a friend who is hurting?
This especially comes to mind now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. There are countless people who are just devastated in Harvey’s wake.
Why me? This is one of life’s most resounding questions that will remain forever unanswered on this side of heaven. It applies to a whole host of valleys that people are required to walk through.
So, how do we comfort someone who has been called to bear the burden of these emotions? How do we tackle the enormous question of “why me” when a friend who is walking through fire turns to us for the answer?
How do we help a friend who has lost it all?
Of course each situation, each person, each relationship is unique, and books have been written on this very topic, but, in a nutshell, these steps are what seem to be drawn on most when holding the hand of someone who is suffering.
If you followed Kara’s journey over at Mundane Faithfulness at all, her hard seemed to be anchored in friends and loved ones who were giving her the gift of these concepts, although I am certain they would all say that Kara was providing them with countless gifts rather than the other way around.
Here is how you can help come alongside a friend who is hurting.
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Offer your presence in whatever way you can. What can you do about their suffering? Nothing. What words should you offer? Oftentimes, I think the answer would be none.
Sometimes the most significant thing you can do is to offer no words at all while just being there. When you feel prompted to speak, saying things like, “I care,” “I love you,” “I am with you,” “I’m crying with you,” and even, “I’m hurting along with you,” can be life-giving words in those moments. Remember, you can’t answer their questions, so don’t try.
Silence can be uncomfortable for us, but talking, chattering, and babbling won’t make this situation any better. Sometimes this can seem insensitively trivial within the magnitude of a trial. Just be there. Be present.
Offer simple acts of service
So often people ask what they can do to help (I was even guilty of this yesterday). But, so often the person who has been given this tough pill to swallow can’t think beyond the very breath they are taking. They cannot possibly think of how you can help them. So don’t ask. Just do.
Bring over a meal, bring over a freezer full of meals for the days to come, bring over groceries of the staples. Go over and do yard work, gardening, or sweeping of all the winter gunk that gets left behind. Offer to pick up their kids from school or drive them to activities every day and then do it. Whatever it is you feel led to do, it most likely won’t be too much. The overwhelming task of living life every day is burden enough for your friend who is hurting.
Let them vent, even if it means they temporarily hurt you
Oftentimes these stressful situations are met with anger. You can be there for your friend to let go of some of that anger. Again, you are not there to talk or to provide answers you don’t have, you are just there to listen. You can even get angry right along with them because after all, you can certainly agree that whatever their valley is, they did not ask for it, and it is not fair.
Walk with them through their struggle, through their pain, and through their grief in this season
So often people come out of the woodwork when tragedy initially strikes, only to leave someone completely on their own once life “gets back to normal” for everyone else. Friends speak of having no idea how to go on with life after losing a loved one while the people around them act as though nothing has been changed (because it hasn’t). At the same time, the ones who have lost someone have had their entire foundation crumbled underneath them.
Be there for the long haul. Be that one person who doesn’t make them feel like they just need to “get over it.” They don’t and they won’t. Not ever.
Even if their struggle somehow gets resolved – maybe they experience remission, maybe they get pregnant again after suffering a miscarriage, maybe they even find love again after losing their spouse – but they will never be the same. Trust me, I have been there and I am still not the same nearly 17 years later.
Although there is no “right way” to come alongside someone in the unthinkable, doing any or all of the above can only be a good thing. You can be as creative as you want to be within the context of the above concepts, but the idea is that you just take the initiative and do something.
Don’t let your fear of doing it wrong keep you from doing anything at all. You can make a powerful difference in the life of someone who desperately needs it.
Here are some excellent books on this subject.