When a Friend is Suffering

Do you have friends that are suffering? Unfortunately, we are a people who are good at complaining and not so good at encouraging. We think that if someone comes to us and shares their pain that we have to fix it, or smooth it out, or put it in an ice cube tray and stick it in the freezer! We have to DO something. We can't just sit, not speaking, just allowing ourselves to be present for the suffering individual.

ice cube tray

I don't claim to be a counselor, and I do not have a degree in psychology, but I have been an adult for over 30 years and I have been through pain and difficulty. I'd like to offer a list (I love lists as you are probably starting to realize), of what not to do and what to do when you have a friend who is going through suffering.

What Not to Do:

1. Do not offer cliches or platitudes. (A platitude is basically a banal, trite or stale remark...according to Webster; and a cliche is something that has become overly commonplace or familiar). For the sake of your friend at least come up with some new material.

2. Don't tell them you will pray for them, unless you are really going to pray. Not only are you offering them a cliche (see #1), but you are lying to them if you don't really do what you say.

3. Ignore them, because you think they don't want the company or need time alone. That is just not true! From my own experience, I feel, much better when someone calls, emails or texts me to let me know they are thinking of me, or praying for me, or actually want to see how I am doing. Sure there are times I want to be alone, but not ALL the time.


4. Text, email, send a card or call once to have it off your "To Do" list. Many people who are going through difficult times are dealing with "long-suffering". Note the word: long! How many times have you made a meal for someone who has lost a loved one and then you never talk to or call them again. And I am not talking about a superficial, "How are you?" passing in the hall at church. I mean a real, "I care! I'm committed to walk this difficulty with you."

5. Never, ever, ever tell your friend to "Get over it!" or "Move on!" Are we really that cruel? Do we really care about these people we call our friends?

I am not talking about the sort of thing some call suffering, like chipping a nail after an awesome manicure; or gaining five pounds after a binge; or missing the final episode of your favorite TV drama. I am talking about the hard, real life stuff like cancer, death, abuse, addiction and unfaithfulness. Suffering is hard and your friend needs your help more than your realize.

What To Do:

1. Hug them. There is nothing more comforting than a hug. Of course every situation needs to be considered separately. If your friend is a man and you are a woman, you might want to forgo the hug, unless you are at the funeral for his child or spouse or other loved one, at which point a hug is appropriate.


2. Listen to them. I am talking about active listening. You are engaged with what they are saying. You aren't sitting there thinking, "Okay, this is what I am going to say...this is the advice I am going to give them...I really wish they would stop talking so I can go home..." Show them you are listening by nodding your head, interacting with short phrases and looking at their face.


3. Sit with them. Sometimes, when a person is laboring through another loved one's hospital stay or hospice stay, it gets lonely and exhausting. Just having another person sitting with them, watching the TV in the hospital room, or talking quietly with them about anything, can make the duration more tolerable.


4. Bring them something that will make them feel good. Maybe it's a latte, or some ice cream or even a home cooked meal. Ask if they mind if you stay for a while or even eat with them. Not only does this ensure the one going through suffering is eating, but it shows you are willing to invest thought and time in them.


5. Kidnap them! Yes you heard me right. When a friend of mine was going through a particularly difficult time, another friend and I got tickets to a Chonda Pierce concert. We told the friend"s husband to tell her he wanted to take her out that night so she didn't make any other plans and told her to wear something casual, but nice. My other friend and I showed up at her house, escorted her to the car and we drove to the concert and had a wonderful time. All three of us were going through struggles at the time, so not only did it help our friend, but it encouraged all of us.

There are many other ways to be encouraging to your friends who are struggling, but be proactive about it. Don't let another day go by with you saying, "I need to send so and so a card or give them a call." It may be the Lord is telling you to do it today and today may be the day they need it most.