Over the past few years, life has seemed a bit harder. Do you know what I mean?
I’ve entered that time in my life where friends are dealing with parents who are aging. Other friends are dealing with truly difficult seasons of parenting. Some friends are adjusting to the reality that infertility is a major part of their story. Another friend is still accepting the diagnosis she never thought she’d hear, putting her in a club she never intended to join. One friend of mine is wondering if her heart will function normally again. Another friend is sitting in a counselor’s office every week with her wayward son, wondering how they got there and if they will ever get back to “normal.” It feels as though I looked up from my life one day only to realize that so many beloved friends are struggling and suffering.
I feel deeply when my people are hurting. I cry with them and for them. My heart aches when their hearts ache. I rejoice when they rejoice. I fear the unknown right alongside them. It’s a beautiful gift, and it’s also a heart-wrenching gift. The pain can often be so real that it seems like my own pain.
I’ve learned a few things while walking through these difficult seasons with my friends, and I’m here to encourage you as you walk alongside your own friends. There are a couple of truths for all of us to understand before we move on. First, we will all suffer and walk alongside friends who are suffering. We live in a broken world, and this is just how it’s going to be until Jesus comes back and fixes all of this mess. Secondly, we will screw up. We’ll say the wrong things, show up at the wrong times—and there is plenty of grace to go around for all of us.
When a friend is suffering, we want to act. Here are a few things I’ve learned that will hopefully help you as you enter into seasons of suffering with your people:
1. Listen more. Talk less.
There is so much truth in the Bible about hard times and suffering. We all know that God works out all things for His good. Yes, suffering does eventually produce great things in our lives. No, this world is not our home. All of those things are good and true, but I’ve learned that there is a time and a place to speak and a time and a place to listen. The biggest discouragement I have heard from friends is that other well-meaning friends have hurt them more than helping them in their times of hardship by speaking before listening.
Not speaking the truth is never an option, but so many well-meaning Christians forget to listen first.
2. Check-in on them.
Life moves so fast that sometimes we think that the suffering others endure is in the past and that it’s not an issue anymore. But friends of mine who have been through the fire feel so loved when someone checks in on their pain—when someone reaches out on the anniversary of the death, diagnosis, or heartbreak—even years later. Continuing to walk through the rebuilding of friends’ lives is sometimes harder than being there for their immediate needs. Be that friend who remembers to ask how others truly are, and be willing to hear the good and the bad.
3. Help with the little things.
Many times in the midst of tragedy some of the most mundane things become difficult. Tragedy or suffering strike and victims have one thing on their minds—get through the day alive and start all over again tomorrow. All kinds of everyday tasks become extremely difficult, like grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, taking the kids to the movies, getting the trash to the curb, etc. Those who are in the midst of suffering are focused on survival. A beautiful way to show your love for these friends is to do some of the mundane tasks for them.
Instead of texting your friend and asking them what they need, text “I’m bringing dinner tonight. I’ll leave it in a cooler on the front porch.” In the midst of hard times, it can be difficult to express something that you need, so take the guesswork out.
Helping our friends through difficult times is an honor. What a joy that God would allow us to walk alongside friends as they hurt and to love them the way that God has loved us! As you walk this journey with your friends, allow God to show you how you can love them the way that He has loved you—intentionally, excellently, selflessly, and joyfully.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”