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)