“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood” Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The recent Cornerstone blog-o-sphere has focused on posts about how to recognize when we down or are feeling overwhelmed and how to cope with circumstances and perspectives that cause us to feel this way. This is so important, because our bodies are a temple for God (1 Cor 6:19) and if we are keeping ourselves healthy, we can better love on others. So, let’s shift our focus to that… how do I help a friend or family member who is feeling overwhelmed, suffering through life’s circumstances, or going through a time of grieving?
6 Practical Ways to Help a Friend in Need:
1. Listen with an open mind
Your friend may have thoughts that are skewed by negative beliefs and emotions right now. Choose to listen in order to really hear in stead of listening in order to speak. There is a difference, and you will grow in relationship with others if you can learn this skill.
2. Don’t give advice without permission
It may be uncomfortable to sit with a friend and listen to some of their struggles when you can clearly see a solution. Rather than immediately offering your opinion or advice, try asking questions and giving affirming statements. Here are some examples:
- Checking in: “You have been on my mind a lot recently, and I just wanted to check in with you. How are you doing?”
- Affirming: “That sounds really hard.”
- Open-ended questions: “I’d like to help somehow- what are some things you need right now that I could take off your plate? Groceries? Chores?”
- Expressing sympathy: “I feel so sorry and sad for your loss.”
3. Encourage them
You can encourage someone with a meaningful and individualized text message, flowers, a quick card with just a couple of sentences, uplifting scripture, a gift card, or simple acts of service. Offer to help your friend with errands, but be careful not to make your friend feel disempowered or to over-help in a way that enables someone to stay in their state of poor health. Find healthy and balanced ways to encourage and support them.
4. Include them
From National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website: “Include your friend in your everyday plans—going to the movies, going out to lunch and exercising. If your friend resists going out, reassure and re-invite without being overbearing. Being with friends can help [people] feel better and recover from a mental health condition—you can play a critical role in ensuring that your friend does not become socially isolated.”
After a friend comes to you needing support or you initially express your concern and connect with them, make sure to follow-up with them soon after. It is so meaningful when someone approaches me with a specific question, checking in about something we talked about previously. For example: “Hey, just wanted to check in about your mom… I have been praying for you and wondering how she is recovering and how you are doing?”
A great suggestion is to keep a running “prayer list” on your phone. When someone reaches out or comes to you with a prayer request, you can write it down immediately so that you don’t forget. Carve out some intentional time, even if it’s a few minutes in the car on the way to work, to actually pray for them. A week later, review your prayer list and check in with that person.
6. Help them to seek professional help
There are some things that your family member or friend may be struggling with that are beyond your ability to support them through alone. People struggling with things like: suicidality, addiction, PTSD from traumatic events, deep loss and grief, identity or personality confusion may need a trained professional to help them work through pain and find holistic healing. You can help encourage your friend about the benefits of counseling and ensure them that you will still be there to support them through it.
We Were Made for This!
We were made to be in community! Community simply means: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals” (Webster).
Here are some benefits:
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25)
Sharing the weight of pain:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc 4:9-12)
Friendship and social interaction:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:42-47)
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16)
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body” (Rom 12:4-5)
You are so important. You can have a powerful impact on the healing that is in store for a friend or loved one who is experiencing tough challenges and circumstances. God wants to use YOU to show love. He may even call you to help comfort and support a stranger… you just need to be on the lookout! Just as the presence of God brings peace and reassurance, your presence in the life of another could be just what they need to experience restoration and relief.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life