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Some of you are aware that Sarah’s baby is in the hospital right now with health complications. Thank you for your prayers. I’m sure Sarah will share more about that someday when she is ready. I wrote this blog post last week before baby was admitted to the hospital, so this is in no way a passive-aggressive way of addressing the wonderful people who have been great comforters during this time. 🙂
Caution in Comfort
When you’re going through a really rough time, often people who reach out to you do their best to comfort and console you. You may be able to identify with the comforter. You go visit your friend in the hospital, or attend a funeral of a tragic loss. What do you say? How do you relate with someone who may be going through some of the toughest days of their lives?
I watched a video recently where a small group of women were weighing in on this topic. One of the things that they emphasized was what not to say.
“Don’t tell them your story. This is not the time to relate to them by sharing what you have gone through in the past. Now is the time to enter into their story as they suffer deeply.”
I appreciated these words, and have found them to be very helpful in how I relate with others. This way of thinking has made me bite my tongue a number of times as I try to relate to my hurting friend. How would I want to be treated? What would I want to hear – or not hear?
When we make broad, sweeping statements, or relate someone’s suffering to that of another’s, we are assuming that we know what they are going through. “My Uncle Pete had the same kind of cancer! He suffered through chemo and radiation – and then went into remission!” Or, what’s worse, is when well-meaning people (like me! I am not excluded from making such faux pas!) make the same sort of comment but end with “but, it didn’t work, and he died a year later.” Ouch.
A grieving person often doesn’t have the capacity to take on more grief. Sharing a story of another person’s grief, struggles, and perhaps death is often more than a hurting person wants to – or can – bear.
And, really, when we’re busy sharing our stories, we’re not allowing them to share theirs. Their current story is in the process of being written – and guess what? You just walked onto the page!
Words that Encourage
God has blessed me with people in my life who really care and have taught me a lot about what it means to love others through suffering. These are some of the questions and statements that they have used to encourage me throughout my years of struggle with chronic illness.
Potential Questions to Ask
- What is your pain like?
- What is your most prominent/irritating symptom?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- How are you really doing? (Your friend may or may not open up to you. If they do, be prepared to listen with understanding and compassion! Don’t breach their trust by being judgmental or gossiping about what they share with you.)
- Is there a specific book or website I can read to understand better what you are going through?
- How can I help make your life easier?
- In what way can I specifically pray for you? (And follow through, then let them know how you are praying, or that you did pray for them!)
Some Statements to Ponder
- I am so sorry you are going through this right now.
- I believe you.
- I pray for you every day [when I get up, when I go to bed, etc.]
- I know your illness has consumed your life, but it does not define who you are!
- I love you. I’m so thankful you are my friend.
- I know you would be different/this situation would be different if you had a choice.
- I don’t know why God has allowed this in your life, but I am trusting Him and His plan for you!
- You’re stronger than you know, braver than you think, more loved than you can imagine.
- God is very much paying attention – He has not forgotten about you.
Chronic illness brings sadness and grief. It’s hard to be someone that you don’t want to be. I have said many times that I’ve felt like I need a vacation. I’m so worn down, so tired, so unable to even think of pressing on and going forward. But, there is no taking a vacation from yourself.
He’s Been Here Before
It makes me think of Jesus’ time in the garden where He was praying to the Father. He was tired. He was looking forward, saw what His life was bringing, and didn’t like the looks of the suffering to come. Pain usually isn’t something that we choose. Jesus didn’t want it either. But, He prayed for the Father’s will.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42
When God brings people across your path who need comfort and love, I hope and pray that your heart is able to weep with theirs. That as you sorrow with them, you will encourage and lift them up. That through your love and care, your friend will know what it means to suffer with hope.