Helping a hurting friend
Practical, godly advice for anyone supporting someone through a tough time.
At some time in our lives, we all experience situations where we are trying to help or comfort a friend, family member, or even a stranger. If you’ve never been confronted by the issues the person is going through, it can be particularly hard. You may feel out of your depth, clueless about what to do, or unsure how to show them Christ-like love and compassion. If that sounds like you, here are some suggestions that may help.
Start by listening
The Bible has lots to say about the value of listening. The books of James and Proverbs have tonnes of wisdom on it, and I recommend reading them if you want to learn more. Here are some verses that go straight to the point:
My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19.
He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13.
Listening to and engaging with what another person is saying is an important and wise thing to do. When a person is going through a hard time, this active form of listening is a great way to:
A) Show you care;
B) Work out what’s happening, and from that, work out how you can help best.
Be an active listener
What does active listening look like? Basically, it's about showing that you're interested in what the other person is saying. Some other features of active listening include:
- Keeping appropriate levels of eye contact.
- Facing the person and reacting appropriately to what they say, which shows them you’ve been paying attention to what has been said.
- Repeating back to someone what they have just told you (in your own words) to make sure you’re getting the meaning of what’s being said. This shows you have tried to understand what’s going on, and your friend can correct you if you’re wrong.
- Asking your friend exactly what they meant if you’re not sure about something that’s been said.
As long as you’re still acting like a friend and not an interrogator or therapist, they’ll hopefully be thankful for the effort you’ve put in to understand them.
Care through action
Love is a verb. It's active. In 1 John 3:18, John writes, ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.’
Search for ways you can help a person out and serve them. Go that extra mile. An easy way to do this is by asking how you can help. It shows someone that you care, and you want to help in a way that supports THEM best. Your friend may want a person to sit and listen to them. They may want your opinion. Maybe they don't want to talk about their problem at all and would love it if you watched a movie with them.
Give your friend the opportunity to ask you to do something that will genuinely help them, and be willing to do what they ask (unless what they want is unreasonable, unhealthy or goes against biblical teaching).
Pray for your friend and pray with them. Ask if there is anything they would like you to pray about. Ask God to help you support your friend. Prayer is powerful, important and often neglected when we think about helping others. Also, please don't feel like you should only pray with Christian friends. Asking a non-Christian friend if they would be happy for you to pray for and with them could be a great way to encourage them and share part of your faith.
Get advice about giving advice
Giving a friend advice comes easily to some and not so easily to others. There are times when it would be good to give advice, and other times when it may not be the wisest thing to do.
- Can you think about times when someone gave you good advice at the wrong time or place, or used the wrong words?
- How about when and where you’ve been given really helpful advice?
Consider what Proverbs 25:20 says: ‘Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart’. Giving lots of cheerful advice (especially if it’s clichéd) is often inappropriate when a person is experiencing a tough situation.
Make sure the advice you give your friend lines up with the Bible. This may be tricky if what they’re going through isn’t clearly addressed in the Bible. In this situation, consider how the Bible addresses similar issues, and what response would show love to God and others. Ask a Christian adult you trust to help you out.
If the struggles your friend is going through feel overwhelming or serious, you may need some form of support. So don't be afraid to seek help from a professional or a responsible adult when needed. Remember you don’t have all the answers, but thoughtful, considerate, Bible-based advice given at the right time is a very good thing.
This list could probably go on and many others could add to it. All the above suggestions take practice - you won't always get it right first time. Take time to think and pray about how you can help those around you that are going through difficult times. I encourage you most of all to take comfort and guidance in God and His word when you are helping others in tough situations.