|People who need a lifeline need something specific from you|
Had the most epic text conversation with a great friend recently who is in the midst of an enormous amount of change in her life.
As we commiserated on 2 out of 3 of those aspects of change, we delighted each other in our responses to one another. . We left one another feeling much better and vowed to pose the following question to the rest of the world. Why do so many of us suck at supporting each other through rough patches? Why do we feel compelled to give "an answer" to our loved ones when they are experiencing difficulty? This is especially true in Christian circles. Both my friend and I are strong believers who just happen to be swallowed up in a crazy season in our respective lives. As we "chatted" intermittenly over 2 hours - it was clear why we felt so much better having interacted. Three very different things happened during our exchange: pure unadulterated listening, no comparisons, no cliches.
Pure unadulterated listening
This one is the hardest to do but really the most important. Just listening sometimes is all our friends need, especially people who are mired in complex situations. We must train ourselves to listen. Fight the compulsion to wander in thoughts or think of solutions to the challenges you are hearing. Literally, stop everything and just listen. Respond with "I hear you," or "I feel you," and genuinely do hear and feel your loved ones concern. Sometimes you just need to listen and listen more because some people have very few people they confide in. You may be the only person they are sharing their adversity with so it is imperative that you just listen. And listen more. Make space and time to just listen.
No. Nope. None. Even if you have been through this or you have a friend or cousin who is in the EXACT situation as your current friend, don't compare. Am I saying that you cannot use experiences you've had to speak wisdom into this new situation? Yes. I am. In the moment of despair or when people are raw, it is tough to hear other stories that appear similar but are not necessarily apples to apples. Even when they are very identical to someone on the outside, there are always nuances and differences, even if they are slight to the person actually experiencing the difficulty. Respect your friend's unique story. And if you have information you are convinced will help them - ask first if you can share it. And if they give you the green light, frame it well and give them the space to see the similarities -don't push them. We are all special and while we all experiences similar challenges, it is difficult to invite someone in and have them compare what you are going through to something else. It is good policy to do your best to not compare at all but if you must, get permission.
This is another tough one. You all know them and in the Christian world there are so many.
Everything happens for a reason.
God isn't gonna give you more than you can handle.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronnger.
Let God and let go.
And there are many many more. In fact, my friend and I chucked because we both balked at what we called "flimsy Christian talk" that people pull out when you confide that you are struggling. Please keep your sayings and cliches when someone shares their doubts and fears. I have a relationship with God and like most of my relationships, there are times when it is strained and downright difficult to deal with. That's right. Sometimes, it's hard to be in relationship with God. And for me, some of those moments come during my most difficult hours; when all I can see is darkness and when I hear no reply to my screams for respite. Pulling out every cliche about how it's all gonna be ok is not the right path. Really. It's not. And you wanna know why? It's not very convincing and chances are you don't really believe that. Yep. I said. Most of those cliches are lip service that we've been fed in our difficult moments and we just regurgitate it when we see a chance. No. Don't. Do better by your friend. Listen. Feel. Reassure that you are there and that you care. Allow them to vent and have those feelings. They need to go there, so don't prevent it with a quick fix saying that isn't going to add any value in that moment. Even if you are one of those people, like me, who lives by Genesis 50:20 or Romans 8:28, you don't have to shove that in people's faces when they are hurting. Pick a less raw time and remind them of what they know to be true or introduce how you handle your difficult times.
And while we both hope to be out of our respective slumps soon, I am so glad for our exchange because it highlighted for us how we all can do better to support people around us when they need us most.
What would you add to our list to better support friends in crisis?