There’s a special sort of awkwardness that comes from not knowing how to be there for a friend in need. Whether the need is brought about by the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or by other circumstances like illness, surgery, or other personal reasons, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin to help someone who’s hurting.
Last fall I went through a season of losing several loved ones in a very short period of time, and more recently, I had a surgery and ongoing recovery process. I hate to admit this, but there were times I was disappointed by people, wondering why they hadn’t reached out or offered any help. Then I realized that many people simply don’t know what to do, and the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing gets in the way of doing anything at all. And it occurred to me that before going through these experiences personally, I never would have known how to help someone else going through them either.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had tons of great support through these trying times (that I’m forever grateful for!). There have been several friends and family members who blew me away with their kindness, prayers, check-ins, meals, rides, and so much more. I started to take note of the ways I’ve been shown love by them so I can follow their example and come alongside others who need care and support.
This article is designed to equip those who have a heart to help their friends, families, small-group members, and fellow Christians when life gets hard. A godly friend with a caring heart, a listening ear, and a Bible in hand can be a profound help to a friend in need. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Entire books have been written on this subject, and everyone’s situation is different, but hopefully this can be a good place to start.
Start With Prayer
Pray before reaching out to someone who’s hurting and ask the Spirit to guide your approach and action steps. If you’re able to talk with your friend in person or on the phone, pray together. Prayer creates a safe place to get real and establishes each person’s mutual dependence on God for help with a troubling situation. Then ask questions that move from general check-in with your friend to focusing on relational and spiritual concerns.
What to Say… or, Not to Say
Once you have prayed and probed a bit, the next challenge is to consider your approach to their struggle. Consider your tone, share some of your testimony, and consider timing when asking questions. Different struggles call for different responses. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 exhorts us to meet each other in specific ways according to the need of the moment, whether it is to encourage, help, or gently admonish.
Sometimes people in uncomfortable situations talk a lot. Many times, they don’t want advice, but simply to be heard. Be in tune with the Holy Spirit about how to respond. A good question to ask is, “Do you want me to just listen or to help fix?” Sometimes, all hurting people need is to have a good listener. Just having the chance to have someone listen without comments, advice, or judgment can soothe feelings of grief and can be a source of comfort.
Meeting Practical Needs
People often ask what they can do to help, and the hurting person cannot respond. In these cases, offering support with everyday tasks can be very meaningful and are gestures that provide comfort. Here are some ideas for “hands on” ways to help: bringing meals or groceries, sending gift cards for restaurants or grocery stores, helping with the kids, walking the dog, cleaning the house, doing laundry, providing rides, etc.
In the early days of grieving my mom’s death, people would say, “Let me know if you need anything”, or “What can I do?”. While the offers were kind, I was so overwhelmed, that I couldn’t even come up with what I needed. And on top of that, I’m not one to ask for help. But, several people took the decision-making out of my hands and showed up at my door with meals, gift cards, and groceries. If someone doesn’t take you up on your offer, try saying, “I’m going to bring you a meal, is Monday or Tuesday better?”
Love Like Jesus
Helping a hurting friend is a very Christlike endeavor, but it is not always easy or even appreciated. We don’t help our friends in order to gain favor with them or with God—we minister to them as a reflection of Christ’s love and compassion, in response to the care He has shown us. Let’s be communities full of true Christian friendship known by our love.
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34–35