“How have you been?” I asked.
Looking into her tired eyes, my heart ached for the suffering I knew she was going through. We talked about her treatments, how far she had to go, and the realities of living every day with cancer.
Though I knew she was suffering, it was a suffering I didn’t quite understand. How could I? I’ve never been diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve never been sliced open or had poisons flow through my veins on a weekly basis. I’ve not been in a battle for my very life.
Because suffering is a human experience we all go through, chances are we all know someone who is currently enduring a difficult trial. Whether it is a deadly disease, a terrible loss, a broken heart, or a shattered dream, we all know what it is to bear the pain of living in this sin stained world. The type and intensity of our trials vary but the emotional pain, the agonizing questions, the battles against doubt, are shared by all of us.
How do we help a friend who is hurting? Sometimes we feel like we can’t because what they are going through is something we just don’t understand or even something that frightens us so we don’t reach out to them. Other times, we want to take away their pain so we try to solve it. And then there are times when we have good intentions and want to be an encouragement but we stumble in our words. We fail to express what we want to say and end up voicing platitudes that fall empty, sounding insincere and heartless.
If you know a friend who is hurting:
1. Silence often speaks louder than words: When Job suffered the tredemous loss of his family and fortune, his friends gathered around him and didn’t speak for seven days. “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Job 2:11-13
But once they spoke, that’s when everything went down hill (see Job 4 and following). Much of Job recounts the hurtful advice his friends gave him. What a hurting person needs most is just the presence of someone who loves and cares for them. Silence brings more comfort than any advice or platitude we could give. We often feel compelled to fill the empty void with words and this is often our downfall. Don’t say anything. If your friend wants to talk, listen. Look them in the eye and use your eyes and body language to show them you care.
2. Speak Gospel Love: When it does come time to speak, speak words of gospel love. Job’s friends did not speak Biblical truth to him. They relied on the proverbial beliefs of the day that righteous behavior equals blessing and sinful behavior equals punishment. While that does happen, it is not the rule of life. Unlike Job, we have the advantage and can see the whole picture. We know the circumstances behind Job’s suffering. In fact, Jesus is the greatest example of One who was perfectly righteous who endured unjust suffering. And the greatest encouragement and hope we can give to anyone is Jesus Christ.
He is the Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief. He knew the sting of rejection. He knew temptation. Jesus came to bear our sorrows and griefs. He came to bear our sin and shame. He came to face temptation and conquer sin and death. This Jesus endured more heartache and pain than we could ever imagine. He did not deserve it but endured it out of love for us. For our sakes he became sin for us. He suffered and died for us. And now he lives and reigns, interceding for us. We need to encourage our friends with these truths and remind them of who they are in Christ. We need to encourage them with the promises of God and point them to the hope they have in Jesus.
3. Pray: Tell your friend you are praying for them and actually do it. In our Christian culture, prayer is sometimes used like a wish and on par with “Hope you feel better.” Or we say “I’m praying for you” in the same polite way we say to the clerk at the store, “Have a nice weekend.” As Christians, we should know the power of prayer. We should know that it sets prisoners free, heals the blind, and raises the dead. It’s one of the ways God uses to carry out his will. When a friend is hurting, we must not fail to pray for them. Tell them specifically how you are praying for them and then ask how else you can pray. Check in with them to get updates on prayer concerns. Consider writing out a prayer and sending it to them.
4. Don’t forget them: This is something I’ve failed at many times. When a friend is going through a trial, we are with them in the early stages and surround them with love. But then time goes on and we have to get back to our normal lives. In so doing, we forget our friend. We think that they have moved on too. But they haven’t. This is especially true of friends who suffer from chronic illness or grief over a loss. A year later and the pain is still just as strong. Don’t forget them. Keep providing them love and encouragement. Stay in for the long haul.
If you have a friend who is hurting, don’t think that because you have not experienced the same trial they are going through that you cannot be a good friend to them. You can. Sit. Listen. Pray. And show them the love of Jesus.