When Your Friend’s Life Sucks

When your friend’s life sucks – well, it just sucks. And it’s awkward. And hard. And seems to never end. And they can become unlovable.

Just like it’s a risk to lovingly pet a hurting animal for fear of being bit back, it’s just as scary to stay close to a friend who is going through hardship, crisis, and loss.

I spoke with a woman who had been going through terrible, awful, catastrophic loss. With permission, I tell you her story. From her account, she and her husband were upstanding, publicly active members of a church. People came to them for advice, hope, prayer. But then…he cheated on her. Her first clue came from a “concerned” woman in her Bible study group. She felt angry at the ludicrous insinuation. Which quickly transformed to humiliation when discovering the truth. While dealing with the pain (that others knew about), the couple remained in the church and received counseling from the pastor. While working through forgiveness, cancer was discovered in her body. The husband eventually left– maybe things were too stressful with trying to work through forgiveness and cancer. Later on, she learned that the “other woman” was still secretly in his life. It sent her into depths of depression. No marriage, no job, no money, no health, and she felt like an object of attention when walking into church or study group. She said “I could feel the whispers”. Slowly a deep depression set in, which grew fear, and eventually anger took over.

This series of unfortunate events spanned two years. Her circle of friends narrowed down to only one she could trust. With great caution, I asked why the circle diminished. Her response ached my heart with truth, “Because she was the only one that stayed with me in my pit of despair and loved me no matter what. She prayed for me when I stopped praying. She drove me to appointments when I didn’t want to fight [my cancer]. She loved me when I growled back. No matter how irritated [I was] she stayed. If God sends us angels, she was mine. I owe my life to her endless grace.”

The thump in my throat was growing, I absolutely understood. When she said she “growled back” – I knew that response. I was ashamed at how I’d been responding to life—yet I was having a really hard time—and I felt I couldn’t tell anyone…everything. Her openness made me feel less alone in my crippled responses to my own series of unfortunate events the last several years.

I thought of this woman’s “one true friend”. I wish I could speak with her and hear what those years were like on her side. What was it like to stick by someone’s side through thick and thin; the good and really bad.

Many years ago I joined a small group. I was new at this particular church and was trying to form connections with other Christian women for the first time in many years. Within a couple weeks of meeting, one of the women—in the middle of our Bible study—broke down in tears. I’ll never forget that night—ever. She wanted to share her heart; her ache and immense pain. But instead of detailing why her sorrow was justified she squeaked between tears, “I wish I could explain—but I just don’t know some of you—I’m sorry, but I don’t trust you…I’m sorry.”

OH MY GOSH – this was the most honest thing I had ever heard and I knew instantly that I would love this vulnerable woman. I didn’t even know what trial she was living with—but my empathy kicked into high gear. My eyes rimmed with tears as I looked around the room at the reactions of others. They knew her far better than I; they had consoling looks on their faces…but no one moved.  I mean, their hearts were deeply moved, but no one was moving to touch her. And in my bravest, newbie person in the group, effort—I announced, “I don’t know you at all, but you’re hurting and I want to give you a hug.”

She nodded and I jumped up to hug her. Silent sorrow turned into vocal sobs, hot breath, and floody wet tears onto my neck and into my shirt. Her fingers dug into me. This woman needed this hug and I wasn’t about to let go…not until she was ready. I’m sure it was awkward for everyone else, but was I lost in the moment of just being there for this woman. After a minute of weeping she whispered, “Thank you, it’s been so long since I’ve been touched. I’ve been so alone. Thank you.” (thank you friend, for letting me tell your story)

That night I learned a valuable lesson. Even though I’d trained as a crisis/intervention counselor, I just learned one more important element to supporting someone in their intense and desperate times of need. Touch.

So when your friend’s life sucks, and it’s getting hard to remain their friend, and things are awkward… here’s four simple ideas that really work.

1)      Hug them. This is not one-armed side hug. This is a full barrel two armed hug. If you’re a guy—then maybe you have to resort to just a pat-on-the-back (but give the hug thing a try). When you see tears coming, stop and hug. It’s like how we react to fire: stop, drop, roll. Know that tears are the same “emergency” signal to: stop, hug, and don’t let go till you feel their release (and then I usually hold onto them for 3 more seconds – because I have super-huggin’ powers).

2)      Consider this. There is no greater compliment than a person needing another in times of great sorrow. Sometimes hurting people are needy…and cumbersome…and will their drama ever end?!? Well, that’s not for us to know—that rests in God’s hands. Until then, we do what we are commanded to do: love one another (Proverbs 17:17). Sit and listen to their lament, they need to vent without judgment. And when they fly off the handle with harsh words (and they will), kick in your grace—because at that moment—they need your grace.

3)      Words can become empty and meaningless in times of great ongoing trials and depression. Words of hope that we can’t promise can be salt in a devastated person’s wound. But, rest assured, actions speak louder and carry far more meaning than any audible word (thank you for that reminder in your comments last week Craiganity). Aside from a hug (which is a great action) what else could you do for them? Bring a flower from your garden, a cupcake, a gift cert for a massage, pedi, or car wash, take their kids to the park so they can have quiet time. Do an action.

4)      Pray. Pray for your hurting friend in your quiet moments. Call, text, email: let them know you have prayed for them that day. And yes, when you’re with them, ask them: “Can I pray with you right now?” I honestly can’t think of a time someone would say no. When I know I’ve been prayed for, there is hope in those words. I have a friend that loves to ask, “what can I pray about for you?” And my goodness, if it doesn’t catch me in good way every time. I wish I was as good as her, but I’m just not—she’s kinda like super-girl. (ps: thank you super-girl)

Copyright © 2009- 2011 Sherry Meneley . All Rights Reserved . soiledwings.com . sherrymeneley.com . soiled wings

20 thoughts on “When Your Friend’s Life Sucks

  1. Thank you my dear freind for some incredible words of wisdom. How I wish I had done some things differently. I love you.

    • ps: Sharon, the more I think about it, the more I realize that difficult moment a week ago was meant to be. While hard, confusing, and difficult… God worked it out really well. At this point I wouldn’t ask for a thing to be changed because I learned so much…and now as a result… others too. God truly is good.

  2. I am that “one true friend” for someone else and it has been a burden and blessing to remain commited to the releationship.
    When I read your second point I needed several tissues. I can’t stop the tears. God needed me to read this today reminding meto keep kicking in my grace. Thank you for your words, it was a blessing.

    • Great post, Sherry. Several years ago some good friends of ours had a catastrophic tragedy in their lives–the death of their five-year-old daughter. I remember walking into the PICU where their little girl was, hooked up to machines of all kinds, and no sign of life, no brain activity. The moment the little girl’s mom, my friend, saw me, she ran to me and we hugged while she sobbed. That hug probably lasted about 15 minutes. Of course this tragic loss has changed her and her husband, and it’s changed our relationship as well. During that horrific time it was really, really hard to continue to be there for them, because it is hard to love someone who is miserable and angry and lashing out, but also in part because of the feelings of helplessness and guilt. You feel helpless, because you can’t do anything, really, to make it better. And there’s really not much you can say, either, because everything sounds hollow and trite. And you feel guilty, because comparatively, your life is great, your problems minimal. Anyway, these friends are agnostic, yet there’s still an anger at God, which in many ways I can understand. As our kids have grown up, and our lives have gotten more hectic and gone on different trajectories, we don’t see them as often as we used to, but we continue to try to maintain our friendship.

      Right now it’s not a friend whose life sucks, but our daughter’s. Some of it is a result of bad decisions, but some is just the way life hands you lemons. Hugs may not solve the underlying problem, and there’s still plenty of anger and frustration to go around, but hugs when you’re miserable and feeling unlovable remind you that unconditional love really does exist.

      • Thanks Kelly – I agree wholeheartedly. It’s so hard to remain in a friend’s life when things are rough, espeically when the hurt goes on and on. Good on you for keeping those hugs available when you can give them.

  3. What a awesome story and great post Sherry. I think this one should go on the top 10 list!

  4. Sherry with tears streaming down my face the first part is like my life at the moment. At times I feel sooo loney and I can understand just wanting a touch from someone, sometimes anyone meaning to go to an unhealthy place to get it. I do have that one friend that is there for me, but a lot of times I pull away because I don’t want to be “The downer” to her life, and worry that she and others are thinking “It’s not that bad, it could be so much worse get over yourself”
    Thank you for sharing this, because I know I also need to be that one for others as well.

    • Oh Kimberly I could write you a book. The friend I mention that got a hug is single too, and that hug meant more to her than I even knew. Now I even better understand the needs of others and human “touch” I will pray right now that you are hugged for real today. (done)
      I’m glad you have “that friend” and I completely understand your fears of being Debbie Downer… It’s scary to be real with people…it’s a risk. I hope your journey has a companion…hit me up on FB when ever you need to vent.

  5. Kelley – you so mirror a lot of feelings I go through when close friends are hurting – especially the feelings of helpnessness and guilt. I don’t find it hard to be with them (24/7 if they wanted it) but my heart just truly hurts for them. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Sherry, thanks for your tender exhortation to reach out to those who are hurting. I believe that our friends mean well, but they often don’t know what to do when we are hurting. So they say, “If there’s anything I can do, just call me.” And really, a hurting person lacks the ability to do the reaching out. It is the friends, neighbors, extended family and even congregation that needs to extend the grace of Jesus with a hug, encouragement or an act of service.

    If more people learn what you know, the pain would be lessened rather than amplified by well-meaning friends. I’m so glad you shared this.

    • Beth that is soooooo true. It’s really hard when a friend offers something with a string attached… Not knowingly, but the string is there because it requires the hurting to “ask”. So much better when we just give… Give the hug, give the cert for the counseling appt, give the groceries or meal–but never put the hurting person in the position to need to ask with that string attached. Being Jesusy is giving and hold no control or power with that string.

      • Sherry & Beth you are both right on, I never coud put that into words when someone would tell me to call them or just ask lots of times I just don’t have the energy to do it at the moment that I need it the most, and sometimes when I do reach out they are not available or say they will call back & don’t so than I go deeper into my shell. Thank you both for your loving heart & stepping out to comfort those who need it and don’t always know how to ask.

      • Kimberly – I speak from experience. I have a friend that has offered me “something” several times… but it requires me asking in my most desperate time of need. And I just can’t (WON’T) do that. So I’ve not taken them up on the offer. In that and other situations, I’ve learned time and time again, how loving it is to give up our control (meant control or not) by just giving whatever the person needs before they ask.

        I’ll agree that there is a time and place for with-holding until asked – but in most cases, at the onset of depression – sorrow – or hurt, it’s never our right to offer a gift and then with-hold until the person requests it. If the Holy Spirit prompts us to do a good thing…then by gosh do it and release it. Give the hurting friend an ounce of power and control – it’s amazing what can happen in that.

        I had a friend who needed the bare basics: food. I could have said “let me know what you need and I’ll get it for you.” But I considered the humiliation and that person’s feelings; the position they were in. So instead I gathered grocery gift cards, money, whatever I could solicit and dropped the care package off at that person’s door. No strings attached. They were blessed and I felt overwhelming joy at obeying God’s prompts when they discovered the mystery “basket left at the door”.

  7. Sherry,
    I don’t know you, but I can’t count the amount of times I have posted your blog to my facebook wall. And everytime I do the responses I get back from my friends are so amazing! Girl, keep sharing, you are doing something VERY right!

  8. sigh.
    In March I hit an all time low one evening (I’ve had lower, but I’m talking about these last ten years of living a life healed from depression)
    I couldn’t move–literally. I didn’t know what I needed. Didn’t know what to ask for. I stayed on the couch for hours–paralyzed. Famiy went on without me. Nothing really changed in the house–sadly. But there was one moment where I felt life–hope. It was when my 4 year old crawled up and snuggled close to me. I remember feeling as though I were a parched desert and my son was a spring of water flowing over me. I had no idea until that moment the power of touch.

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