One of my standard jokes about the Book of Job is that they just don’t do pity parties like that anymore. In Biblical times, it was apparently fairly standard practice to tear one’s clothes, sprinkle ashes in one’s hair, and even literally tear one’s hair out in times of profound grief; but if you read the story carefully, you notice that Job’s friends, upon noticing his great distress, sat down on the ground and waited seven days before even speaking to him.
That’s some grief-stricken shock and awe for you!
Of course, the conversation went downhill from there. I don’t know whether they ever had tea together, but the sympathy surely was lacking. Nonetheless, at the very outset of their visit, they certainly had the knack for weeping with those who weep.
It can be challenging to properly sympathize with and support our friends, especially those who might be navigating unfamiliar territory. We don’t always do well with situations outside our comfort zones, and it can be tempting to worry so much about saying or doing the wrong thing that we don’t do anything at all.
I don’t think sitting around in silence for days on end is exactly in order whenever facing something outside the realm of our experience, but it’s good to remember that there’s a season and a purpose for every time under the sun. Suffering is never fun, and the emotional and psychological isolation and despair that can result from debilitating limitations can be unexpected and intense. It’s so very important that we be prepared to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Because every person’s response to difficult circumstances may be different, it’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all prescription for how to help out, but I’ve personally found the following ideas to be helpful:
EXTEND PRACTICAL HELP. Almost the worst part of being too overwhelmed to manage one’s troubles is the inability to effectively absorb offers of help. Many wise people have observed that for maximum effectiveness, the offer should be specific and direct, not vague and ambivalent. “Let me know how I can help!” or “Please don’t hesitate to call on me!” are not nearly as practical as, “I’d like to bring you a meal. Will this or this day work better for you, and do you have any special dietary requirements?” or “I’d be happy to come over and clean your house for an hour this week—are mornings or afternoons best?”
If you can’t provide specific logistical help, OFFER WHAT HELP YOU CAN—and don’t discount the importance of emotional support. Since I have six kids of my own, I’d bring more chaos than peace if I tried to go clean someone’s house. But I can send uplifting messages, set up a meal train for others to participate in, intercede in prayer, and be available on the phone to just listen and affirm.
BE AN ENCOURAGER. This relates to the previous point, but I want to belabor it because sometimes we overlook the powerful impact our words can have in lifting spirits. In one case, a friend was sharing with me her concerns that her kids were falling behind in their school-work. I couldn’t commit to tutoring her kids and actually solving the perceived problem, but I helped lift the burden of it by providing helpful statistics about early childhood education benchmarks and reassuring her that her kids were on track.
I remember that when I went through some tough times, I really appreciated having a few close friends condole with me as I walked a very challenging path. Having friends send me uplifting messages, citing specific Scripture verses relating to my struggles, and assuring me that they were praying for me meant so much and helped restore my perspective when I was tempted to feel overwhelmed by negativity.
BE NOT WEARY IN DOING WELL. How quickly we can move on! Chronic suffering and lingering heartaches have a way of disappearing from our radar, since in our busy lives, we tend to operate on the “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Those in distress are often hesitant to ask for ongoing help, sometimes thinking that they should be “over this by now” or maybe feeling that they’ve maxed out all their favors. It’s a good discipline to set up reminders so we don’t lose sight of ongoing needs.
It’s never fun to face trials and tribulations. But hard times can be endured better when we have friends to help us through them. “Two are better than one; and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.”
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.