Pop quiz time: Your friend is going through a really though time. Perhaps she’s getting a divorce. Perhaps she’s dealing with depression or with an eating disorder. Or perhaps she has a child with special needs and it’s really taking a toll.
How do you respond?
If you’re like most people, you’re probably a little uncertain. You want to help, but you don’t know how. You don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing and make it worse. You aren’t sure if you should press the matter or giver her some space, so you end up doing nothing at all. Or at least, far less than you know you probably should.
We’ve all been there.
The good news is, you’re probably overthinking things. Yes, it’s possible you might say the wrong thing. And yes, it’s possible that you could even make it worse. But for most people, just knowing that you’re there and trying means the world.
In fact, if you look at the book of Job in the Bible, when Job was going through a really tough time, his friends certainly didn’t get it all right. In fact, they were even chastised by God for their poor advice to Job! (Talk about embarrassing!)
But I highly doubt Job would have wished they wouldn’t have come at all. Job’s friends may have made some mistakes, but they got a lot of things right too. And there’s a lot we can learn from the story about helping a friend through a tough time.
1. Be There for Them
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. —Job 2:11-13
When Job’s friends saw that he was suffering, they were there for him. They visited him, sat with him and let him know there were truly there for him–for seven days and seven nights! That’s a long time to give up everything to be there for your friend.
Chances are, you can’t drop everything and sit with your friend for a week straight, but there’s likely something you can do. For example, you could:
- Stop by with a gift, a meal, and a hug
- Offer to take their kids for the night (or the weekend) so they can have some quiet time
- Help out with the housework, running errands or coordinating important events, papers, or appointments
- Do the yard work or wash their car
- Walk, feed or groom their pets
- Take them to a movie, concert or out to eat to help get their mind off of their situation
2. Keep Unwanted Advice to Yourself
If you notice in the verses above, Job’s friends sat with him for seven days before they launched in with their advice. That’s a long time to be quiet! And yet, sometimes it’s not long enough.
If your friend is looking for a solution and you have something that will truly be helpful to them, then by all means, you should share.
But, if your friend is hurting or grieving right now, they may not be ready for your advice just yet. And that’s okay. Start by being a good, understanding friend now and you can share your advice later.
Not sure which your friend needs from you? Ask them! Simply say, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a rough time right now! I care about you and I want to help. What’s more helpful to you right now? A shoulder to lean on or a practical solution to your problem? (Or both?) I’m here with whatever you need!”
Plus, just because your friend doesn’t want your advice doesn’t mean that they unwilling to listen altogether. They may already have gotten good advice from another friend or they may already know what they need to do but they just haven’t gotten up the courage to do it yet.
Help your friend out in the way that best helps THEM, not you.
3. Avoid Cliches
Once Job’s friends did start to speak, unfortunately, things turned sour quickly. Job’s friends started relying on half-true church-y beliefs in an attempt to understand the situation. Basically, since God allows the wicked to suffer, then surely Job must have done something wrong to cause his suffering. But this wasn’t really the case. And it’s not always the case today either.
Just because a phrase sounds good or is true sometimes doesn’t mean that it’s true all of the time or that you need to say it.
Phrases such as “Everything happens for a reason!” “When God closes a door, He opens a window” and “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle” aren’t helpful. They may make you feel better, but they aren’t likely to help someone who is truly suffering.
If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. Simply say “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” or “How can I help?” Ask if you can pray with them–and do it right then and there. But don’t just spout off empty phrases just so you have something Biblical-sounding to say.
4. Encourage Them to Seek the Lord
Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm… — Job 38:1a
After several rounds of back-and-forth with his friends, Job finally speaks to God himself about the situation. But unfortunately, he doesn’t get any easy answers.
While we know the back story of God allowing Satan to test Job for His own glory from chapter one, God never reveals this information to Job. He simply puts Job in his place for failing to trust Him.
The truth is, no matter how strong our faith is, all of us will go through a rough time at some point. And when we do, it’s only natural for our faith to start to falter. It happened to the best of them–all throughout the Bible. But the good news is, God can handle it!
God is bigger than our emotions and stronger than our circumstances, and when we’re upset–we should come to Him. It’s not like He doesn’t already know what we’re struggling with!
It isn’t until Job has a heart-to-heart with God that he realizes how big and wonderful God still is, and it helps him regain his composure and his perspective.
If your friends are going through a tough time, pointing them back towards Jesus (in a loving and caring manner) may be just what they need.
Here are a few related articles that may also help:
5. Pray for Them
So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has… After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. — Job 42:8,10
Job may have been the one going through a rough time at the beginning of the book, but by the end of it, his friends weren’t looking so great either. Thankfully, they had Job there to pray for them.
Can your friends count on you to pray for them too?
Not just once or every once in a long while when you remember to–but round-the-clock as long as their troubles persist?
Not sure what to pray? Here are a few ideas:
- Pray that this experience would draw them near God–not pull them further away
- Pray that they would trust God despite their storms
- Pray that God would be near them and comfort them
- Pray that you would have the wisdom to say and do the right things
- Pray that God would use this situation for their good
- Pray that all things would work out to God’s glory
It’s hard to see a friend going through a rough time–especially when you don’t have the answers or don’t know what to do. Thankfully, when we take a note from the book of Job, it makes the process much easier.
Have you ever struggled to help a friend through a tough time or struggled through one yourself? What have you found that works? What doesn’t?