During youth group this month (Tyler and I are adult leaders for the high schoolers) we are discussing “Real Life” problems with our students. As they learn about loneliness, pain, anxiety, and life stages, they are challenged to consider how they can help others dealing with these very real issues.
This got me thinking about my own experiences of support and love through my sickness, as well as my feelings of betrayal and loneliness. It can be hard to support our friends/family as they face storms we don’t understand firsthand, but we cannot allow that to block us from doing our best to BE THERE for others in their time of suffering.
Here are five tips to help you communicate with your loved ones in need, from the perspective of someone who has been/is on the receiving end .
1. Don’t allow fear of saying the wrong thing- keep you from saying anything at all.
I believe this fear overwhelmed many of my friends/peers. My battle started at age 20, when I was i college, right in the middle of the selfish years. All my friends were still kids and their focus was on school, friends, relationships and having fun. I get it, I lived that life too. I think my circumstances were hard for even adults to grasp… it was inevitable that my peers would have no idea what to say. My circumstances were extremely confusing, unknown, serious and downright scary. This pushed many of my friends away from me.
The friendships I still have from that time, or rather, the people who were truly THERE for me, took the risk of hurting me by saying the wrong thing rather than abandoning me but saying nothing.
Nothing hurt more than the silence.
Take the chance! If you say the wrong thing- oh well! At least you said something. My best friend/college roommate, Erin, taught me this concept. She admitted her fear and intimidation in communicating with me… she was worried about not having the right words. Lucky for me, her love was bigger than the fear and she took the chance over and over of saying the wrong thing because she knew I needed her.
2. Ask them to communicate clear needs/boundaries so that you can better understand HOW to support them.
For years I cringed every time I was asked, “How are you?” (Confession: there are days when I still do!) The most common question in the universe ignited anger, resentment, and frustration inside of me… I never knew how to answer that question and sometimes, still don’t. I made it clear to my inner circle – that particular question was the most painful for me and asked them to please not say it. Communicating those clear boundaries made the situation a little less confusing for both parties. Of course there were times when the question HAD to be asked, but I appreciated every time it was avoided or rephrased.
The suffering person may not know what they need… that’s okay. Eventually, something will take place that helps them better understand the types of language and support that is most beneficial and that which is hurtful.
3. It’s okay to admit you don’t know how they feel.
Hearing these genuine words are instant refreshment to my soul,
“I DON’T know what you’re going through. I DON’T know how you feel. Although I can’t personally relate, I am here for you. I love you. I support you. I’m praying for you. If there is something I can do for you or something you need, please tell me! I want to be there for you.”
We don’t have to understand every facet and inner working of someone’s life in order to be there for them. Yes, when we can truly empathize, it is easier to support another. It’s wonderful when we can relate! But it’s also hurtful and even insulting to be told, “Oh I know EXACTLY what you are going through. I know how you feel because..” followed by an example that does not even begin to respect the severity of your suffering.
Don’t compare, don’t compete and don’t act like you really “get it” if you don’t. All pain and suffering is hard, no matter how big or small. It’s okay if you don’t understand… simply listen and love.
4. Prayers is the greatest gift you can give.
The power of prayer is often overlooked. This simple, cost free act is truly what matters most. Don’t merely say or type the comment, “Praying for you” then walk away and forget what you pledged to do. (I am guilty of that crime!.) I encourage you to pray for that person the second you say you will. Send a card, letter or email with your prayer typed out inside.
Consider calling them on the phone to pray or even leave a prayer voicemail. If you’re physically together, I encourage you to lay hands on them and pray aloud. Listening to another person fight for you with heartfelt requests to God is powerful and so encouraging!
I receive a good amount of messages through my social media accounts (mostly on Instagram) from people who are walking through suffering of some kind. God placed it upon my heart to not simply prayer for them on my own, but to respond to messages with the prayers! I love the unique opportunity He’s giving me to pray for countless others whom I will likely never meet.
5. Continue your support through the silence.
I never had my phone out during hospital admissions, or even in the weeks after. In fact, after my surgeries I would be on my phone a handful of times over the course of a month or two. I was experiencing so much pain and debilitation that I physically could not look at a phone or have the mental capacity to converse. I know my silence probably hurt feelings or made some feel as though I did not want to talk to them. Please, do not drop your support if you receive only silence from the other side. I assure you they cherish every message, card, and effort made to reach out. Even if you never hear back, keep trying.
We are all guaranteed hardships in this life. Thank you Jesus for being with us in our suffering and glorifying your power in our weakness. Next time you encounter a friend or family member who is walking through difficulty, try employing these five strategies to better communicate with your loved on in need. Even if you can’t understand what they are going through simply BE PRESENT!
Cover photo courtesy of Mack Lee Photography.