by Christa Upton
This post is dedicated to wonderful family (including very extended family!) and friends who have been faithfully helping us through our hard times.
So you know someone going through a really hard time. Sometimes you won’t know what to say, and that’s okay!!! Sometimes a suffering person just needs someone to listen, not necessarily talk.
Sometimes words can help, though. Three of the things I think can help—in addition to just listening—are: acknowledgement that the troubles ARE difficult, encouragement, and questions.
First, when someone honestly acknowledges the difficulty of someone else’s troubles, it can lighten the load. I think it is because the friend is choosing to take the emotional distress of the sufferer’s situation into their own thoughts. In this way, the friend is helping to carry the burden. The friend is giving up their “comfort” in order to think about what the suffering person is going through.
Acknowledgement also guards against minimizing a sufferer’s pain. Minimizing usually hurts; acknowledgement usually helps.
Second, sincere encouragement is almost always a good thing. Some people have a tendency to react to difficulties with, “What did I do wrong?!?!” Of course this is a false premise in many cases. Though difficulties can come from bad choices, others are just “part of life.” Sometimes difficulties actually come because we have done something right!!! Regardless, it can certainly help to hear words of encouragement.
My caution, though, is to be sure the words are encouraging. Sometimes words meant to be an encouragement are discouraging beyond belief. One way to test this is to put yourself in the person’s place as much as you can mentally/emotionally. Say stuff to yourself and see how you might feel. (This is pretty much the Golden Rule!)
Of course, misunderstandings are bound to happen, and don’t forget that people going through deep pain are sometimes raw. Compassion is always warranted.
Also try your best to be sure you are speaking the truth. Think of Job (in the Bible) and his friends. Job’s friends were much more of a comfort to him when they sat silently with him in his sorrow than when they were speaking falsehoods to him!
Third, questions are a wonderful invitation to sufferers to talk about their troubles. Suffering people sometimes do not know how much to express their pain to friends but can be desperate for an outlet. Don’t feel like you always have to “fix” everything they have told you. It’s a nice thought and sometimes good to “fix,” but sometimes things “can’t” be “fixed.” Just simply letting them talk about struggles can help them sort feelings out, look at their suffering in a different light, share the burden, and deal with things better.
One final thought—in everything, don’t forget prayer. Some people naturally have a gift of encouragement, but anyone can pray. The Lord knows exactly what the suffering person needs, and He can guide you to thoughts or words or something that can help.
Christa Upton Black Hills Picture Books PO Box 293 Custer, SD 57730