When someone around us is suffering, whether it be from heartbreak, loss or illness, we want to be able to help, don’t we? We want to find the perfect words to say to ease them in their pain, and help them feel encouraged and loved. Yet those words are hard to find, especially when we may not be able to relate to the road they are so bravely walking.
Because I know your heart is true in wanting to help those around you facing some giants, I have some tips to help you along the way. Please read these with an open heart, even if it’s beyond what you would ever consider doing, saying (or not saying) to your friend. Some of these are practical and some of these will not only support your friend through their struggles, but my prayer is it will soften and mold your heart to those suffering in the process.
1. Send encouraging texts or messages.
“Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” Job 4:4
This may seem trivial, but there have been so many times a sweet text, or even a funny meme, has brightened my day. Sometimes amidst dark trials, we tend to shut the world out for a time, and that’s not always a bad thing. There have been days I just can’t handle any more news, any more drama or any more sadness – my heart and body just didn’t have it in me to process. But, those positive, encouraging messages can bring light and joy to a rough day. Something this simple can help your friend know that you love them and are thinking of them.
Also, give them permission to not respond. Saying something as simple as, “Julie, I woke up thinking of you today. You are a warrior and I’m so proud of the strength and perseverance it takes to walk out your daily life. You don’t have to respond – just wanted you to know I love you! I have included a funny raccoon video – hope it makes you laugh as hard as it did me!”. It’s that simple – simple, yet powerful to a weary heart.
2. Pray for them and TELL them you are.
I once had a friend tell me that God laid me on her heart and He told her to pray for me, right then. In her obedience, she stopped what she was doing and prayed, then sent me a simple text explaining what had just happened. All I could do was cry. It had been a particularly rough morning and all my hope had seemingly blown away with the summer winds. But, it was in the fact that my Father would interrupt my friend’s day, on my behalf, that made me feel the renewing of His love, thus renewing my hope. And I never would have gotten to experience that deeper connection with my Father if she had never revealed that story and that prayer.
3. Don’t tell them God will definitely heal them.
“So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleased with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
You might not agree with me on this one, and that’s ok. But, see, God has already whispered to me that I will not be healed this side of heaven, so when someone tells me they KNOW God will heal me, it sends me in a tail spin. I have been spoken to by God Himself, yet the very words of others can make me doubt that, on those pain filled days when all I wish for is physical healing.
God doesn’t physically heal everyone here on earth, does He? Yet, He uses suffering to soften our hearts and mold us into a better likeness of Him, and as Christians, isn’t that our ultimate goal? So instead of telling your friend that God will definitely heal them of their physical pain, remind them of what happens even if He doesn’t.
It could go something like this, “Sarah, I pray for God to reach down and heal your body and your mind, and I truly believe that if it’s His will for you to be healed, He will HEAL YOU! What a glorious day that would be! But, EVEN IF He doesn’t, EVEN IF it’s not in His plan for you, I KNOW God is willing to heal your heart and draw you closer to Him. His grace covers even this. He wants you healed, yet maybe it’s your heart He’s longing to mend. I am here for you if I can help you in seeking His will for your life. I can’t wait to see how God will use these hard days to strengthen you and heal you, according to His purpose.”
4. Listen to them.
“Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.” Psalm 5:1
It’s hard to find a safe person to talk to that won’t judge your words or your emotions during trying times. The best friends I have just listen when I vent and cry. They hold me and love me and pray over me. They don’t try to fix me, especially in a moment where I need to get out all that is going on in my heart and in my head. Satan’s lies are all too clear some days, and just saying them out loud, releases the power and hold they have on us, so just listen. Once I am done crying and venting and my heart has calmed, I am ready to hear Truth and encouragement, but until the river of emotion stops flowing, not much else can get upstream.
5. Don’t send too much research.
I have friends who used to send me article after article on health and healing (related to what I was going through at the time) and I so loved their hearts! All they wanted to do was help and I felt so loved and cared for – they wanted me to get better and those articles talked about different ways to do that. I appreciated their thoughtfulness. But, honestly, I didn’t read many of them. It was too overwhelming to me.
What would have helped me more? If someone had asked me if there was something they could research FOR me and give me the bullet points, I would have been elated! I know it’s in our nature to want to pass along information and that is so sweet and thoughtful, but just be aware that too much information can make our hearts weary and overwhelmed. Moderation, dear friend, would be so very helpful to our already burdened hearts.
6. Offer to help them in little ways.
When my husband had back surgery, our lives were in a tail spin. Not only was I sick, but now my wonderful, care-taker husband was down for the count, also. My friends rallied around us and set up meals for us. They even went to the grocery store for us and shuttled kids around. If someone you know is suffering, helping them in small ways speaks volumes to how much you love them and care for them.
As far as meals go, if someone has some dietary issues, consider learning about it and cooking for them anyway (unless it’s an allergy, then the cross-contamination is more serious). I had many friends take time to study my medical diet and cook something for me, as well as for my family! That was a tremendous gift to me and it means so much that they took the time to bless us in that way.
7. Be in the Word to give sound Biblical advice.
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
If you aren’t grounded in the Word of God (the Bible), how will you be able to comfort someone going through grief or hard circumstances, especially ones you haven’t personally experienced? More so, the advice you give needs to be Truth based and life-giving, which can only come from knowing God’s very words. That doesn’t mean you have to stress about having the perfect verses memorized for your friend. But, if you come across a verse or commentary in your studying that could encourage and uplift her, pass it along. I have even written out verses and handed them to a friend at lunch, so don’t be intimidated by not having hundreds of verses memorized. God has used the most seemingly random verses to speak to me, so just listen in your quiet time for Godly words to speak over your suffering friend.
8. Give them grace.
I have heard from countless suffering women that they don’t really have friends anymore. Due to pain, sickness, anxiety, or grief, the need to cancel plans (even last minute) happens more than we would like. Be patient with them. If they don’t respond back to your texts, don’t take it personal. Instead, when they are silent, commit yourself to praying over them, because odds are, they are struggling and just can’t reach out. Send a text telling them you are praying for them and you love them, and give them that permission to not respond. Don’t give up on them. Continue to invite them and reach out to them. Because in my experience, the ones that have had the toughest battles are some of the wisest, kindest, God-seeking people I have ever met and you definitely don’t want to miss out on all they have to offer.
9. Don’t tell them God only gives them what they can handle.
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure… But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
I know this seems comforting to say to someone who is walking a hard road, yet this is not in the Bible. More so, it’s false. Many people get it confused with 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says God won’t allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. That’s two very different things.
If God only gave us as much as we can handle, why would we ever need to turn to Him? Our hearts would then be self-reliant and our need for God would be minimal, at best. God absolutely gives us more than we can handle, because it brings us to our knees before the Throne in desperation of God’s hope, His love and a yearning for a greater understanding of His will. So, if you have tried to encourage someone with those words in the past, just pray over them. Pray that God would use their suffering and not let it go in vain in their own lives.
And don’t say those words again. I know you didn’t know and it’s ok, friend. Now you do!
10. Help them feel seen.
I can’t count the number of times that suffering women have cried out that they don’t feel seen, either by the world or, sadly even by their Father. That breaks my heart, mostly because it seems to be an epidemic amongst the broken-hearted. How can you help? Reach out – it’s that simple. If someone is trudging through the grocery store, stop and ask them how their day has been and WAIT FOR AN ANSWER. Make conversation with the person handing you your Sonic tea or ask the lady having a hard time lifting her groceries if your teenage son may help. It’s all about relationships, yet our lives are too busy and too rushed to make time for those anymore. So slow down and look around, because odds are, someone around you is feeling lost and unseen by the world around them. The amazing thing is, by you simply showing them you care, they are getting a glimpse of the Father’s love for them in the kindness of your eyes. Help someone feel seen today.
I hope in reading these, God has shown you some insight into the workings of the needs of your friend’s suffering heart. The fact that you took time to read these, shows how much you love them and want to support them – they are blessed to have you in their lives! If by reading these suggestions, you have realized something you have said or done may have inadvertently not been the best choice of words or actions, don’t worry friend. There is grace in this space. We know the right words are hard to come by and we don’t hold that against you. We appreciate you making an effort to ease our pain and support us – that matters more than you know.
I encourage you to try some of these ways of support for your friend. If their road is rough and their heart weary, they will gladly accept your loving encouragement.
Do you have any other ways to support a suffering friend? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments!
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13