Guest post by Gina of GinaMPoirier.com
At some point everyone has a friend who’s going through something really tough.
Maybe she’s trying to fix a broken marriage or even asking herself “is divorce ever okay?” Perhaps she’s lost a loved one. There might be challenges in her health or in her family’s health. Or maybe she’s simply processing a lost hope or dream.
Unless you’ve been through a similar situation, it’s hard to know how to be supportive.
Many well-intentioned people try to help but end up hurting their friend even more with poorly chosen words of advice (ever read the book of Job?). On the other hand, in order to avoid making such a mistake, some avoid interacting much with their friend altogether!
The Bible instructs us to be refreshment to our sisters in need. Paul wrote in his letter to Philemon: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” (Philemon 1:7). That’s what I want to do.
Having been through some painful trials myself over the years, and having been very close to others who have, I’ve learned a few tips about how to be a good friend to someone who is grieving.
Related post: How to Care for a Friend Who Has Lost a Child
1. Be Available
Grief is an unpredictable thing. When you’re going through it, sometimes you just want to be alone. But sometimes your really do need a shoulder to cry on. You don’t always know which way you’re going to feel at any given moment.
That’s why one of the best things you can do as a friend can do is to make yourself available to simply listen. Ask your friend if she would like a visit or a phone call. Let her cry on your shoulder if she wants to. Sit with her in her pain. She may not accept the offer immediately, but she might later.
Check in with her periodically to see how she is doing, and offer to be with her more than once. You can do this without being annoying or invasive. Something as simple as a text that says “I was praying for you today and was wondering if you’d like to be with a friend” reminds the person who is suffering that she is not alone and that you’re there if she needs you.
But don’t take it personally if she doesn’t want to be with you either. Your availability in and of itself may be enough.
*Related Post: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
2. Pray for Her and with Her
Christians often say, “I’ll pray for you.” But since I’m forgetful myself, I have to wonder how many people actually follow through with this promise!
When you tell your friend that you’re praying for her, I hope those aren’t empty words. I find it helpful to keep a list of people I’m praying for in my planner or prayer journal. Sometimes I’ll put a reminder on my phone. And when I pray, I try to be specific about the situation, not just “God, please be with Jane and her family during this time.”
Your friend might also appreciate an offer for you to pray with her. I was at a church event once and was kind of a wreck. A friend of mine recognized immediately that I was in pain and offered to go for a walk and pray together. And when I say “together,” I mostly mean her, because I could hardly choke out a word. But I nodded in affirmation as she put into words what I couldn’t.
It was such a simple but powerful gesture that I hope I can imitate—for a friend who needs my help to put her prayers into words.
3. Offer Specific Help
It’s natural to offer, “Do you need anything?” to a friend who is grieving. But what is more thoughtful is being more specific. When you’re in grief, it takes way too much energy to sort through what would be helpful.
So when you make an offer, think of what might be most challenging to your friend at this time. Bringing meals is almost always appreciated, and organizing a group to bring meals is even better! (Just be aware of dietary restrictions and preferences.) But it doesn’t have to stop there. Offer to take care of her kids, clean her house or run errands. Ask if she would like to be treated to an evening alone with her husband or by herself.
4. Don’t Try to Fix Her
When you offer your availability to listen and be there for your friend, you don’t want to give in to the temptation to make her feel better by minimizing the pain she’s going through or trying to explain it away. Even if you perceive the silver lining or the lesson to be learned in the situation, it can feel like vinegar on a wound to someone who is deeply hurt.
“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart” –Proverbs 25:20
When you start sentences with a sentiment like “Well, at least it’s not as bad as XYZ” or explain away the situation, you’re indicating that her feelings of pain aren’t appropriate. Proverbs 14:13 says, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.”
Just because there is a positive or a lesson to be learned doesn’t mean that her feelings aren’t legitimate.
If you don’t understand your friend’s feelings, that’s okay. You don’t have to understand to be a good listener, and you don’t have to try and explain what’s happening. Be patient, and let the suffering run its course.
Related post: How to Respond When God Allows Trauma
Have you ever been through a season of grief, or been close to someone who has? What do you think is refreshing to the heart?