Reaching out to someone in pain can be intimidating. What if I say or do the wrong thing? What if I fail to listen well and make the person feel misunderstood rather than comforted? What if I am like one of Job's miserable comforters?
In the past, these thoughts used to scare me. In fact, sometimes they still do, and sometimes they have kept me from reaching out to people.
Often people who are chronically ill and their caregivers express that they have a lack of support, but sometimes I wonder if the problem is not entirely a lack of care from others but rather that some people just don't know how to help and are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. So today, I have decided to write a post about how to support someone hurting. (And to my friends, please forgive me when I fail to follow my own advice. Being a better supporter is something I am working on too.)
Believe us. Chronic illnesses are often invisible, and this can lead to misunderstanding. Chronic illnesses can also be very severe, and the person may be experiencing symptoms, such as severe reactions to even the smells of food, that you have never experienced yourself and that sound crazy and impossible. Please believe us when we tell you about these symptoms and recognize that we might only be telling you ⅓ of what we're going through because the other ⅔ of our story is very difficult to explain, and we fear being accused of exaggerating.
Listen to us and ask us questions. I have come to realize that listening is one of the most helpful things people can do for me and that I can do for them. Listen without judgment, and listen without assuming you know how the person feels. Ask questions about what they said. Often people want to talk about something, but they won't share unless asked because they don't want to burden someone else with their pain or come across as complaining. At the same time, remember to be sensitive regarding what you ask and to not pry.
Acknowledge and validate. Acknowledge how hard their suffering is. It can be as simple as saying you're sorry for what they've been through and are continuing to endure. Validate your friend's feelings. They probably shouldn't be apologizing for crying over something hard, and they are likely invalidating themselves, thinking they should be "tougher."
Hug us. Receiving a hug is often one of the most comforting things. Hugs can communicate a love and care that words often fail to do. If you can’t be with someone to physically hug them, tell them that you are sending them a virtual hug and maybe use emojis.
Pray for us. Pray for God to strengthen us, to draw us near to Him in our pain, to fill us with hope, joy, and peace, and if it be His will, for deliverance from the trial. If you want a good resource on how to pray for your hurting friends, I recommend the book I'm Praying for You by Nancy Guthrie.
- Follow up. Make an effort to stay in touch with us and repeat steps 1-5. Remember friendship needs to be intentional.
The above are the most important points, but if you want some further ideas on how to support your suffering friends, here are some other suggestions.
- Send us pictures. I'm mostly homebound and often in bed, so I love seeing pictures of the outside world. I also enjoy when friends send me "I spy" photos, and I have to find something hidden in the picture. Pictures are especially great for me to look at because on my sickest days, I am usually too foggy to do much that requires a lot of thought.
- Mail us a card. Who doesn't like receiving mail? It's also a tangible reminder of your care every time we see your card on display.
- Comment, or at least react, to our social media posts, where we share hard things. It shows us you care, and it means a lot because often people ignore these sorts of posts.
- Send us encouraging songs. Most people love listening to music, and it can lift one’s spirits.
- Offer specific, concrete help, rather than saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Often, people have little idea what the person may or may not be willing to do when they say that, and sometimes we are too foggy and overwhelmed to even know what we need.
To all my family, friends, and blog readers who have supported me, thank you so much. What is the one of the most helpful or encouraging things someone has done for you in a season of suffering? Comment below.