culture · identity · relationships

how to support others without sounding cliché

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you?

Do you ever go through seasons of life where it feels like nothing is working for your favor? Like someone is throwing every hardship your way, just to see what you do next?

Do you ever feel like you’re stretched so dang thin, you can’t even breathe to try to pull yourself back in?

Friend, if you answered yes to any of these things, know you are not alone.

I’ve been talking to quite a few people that all agree, October was one of the toughest months of the year so far. From receiving the news of more and more friends and family members passing away, to the various strains and struggles so many are dealing with right now, it’s been an incredibly difficult season of loss.

So what is there to say? How do we comfort those seemingly “going through the ringer”? How do we offer true comfort and support, instead of throwing cliché statements up in the air like a birthday party balloon we know will never see another day?

For quite a while I have been silent. I’m not sure why, but maybe it had to do with a little bit of fear. Fear of saying the wrong things and hurting someone; fear of not being the friend my close companion needs most. Fear of drawing the attention to myself and my problems when that was never the intention.

I’ve been tentative to share anything I’ve been thinking also because, if I’m being totally honest, I don’t feel “qualified” to share it.

I’m going to be completely and totally open with you. Maybe even a little blunt. In our Christian culture, we are obsessed with education and accredidations and levels of success. Have you ever noticed that before? Anytime an author comes out with a book, you know what is in the “About the Author” section? Where that person went to seminary, their status as a pastor or women’s ministry leader, and how large of a church or group they lead.

Can I just say that this is incredibly discouraging? This creates an unintentional expectation that in order to write a Christian book, you need to have X-Y-Z things done in your life, be at least 45 years old, lead a large church or group of women, and be praised by other top Christian authors.

You know what that does to our hearts? It forces us into this horrible mindset that we don’t think we are “allowed” to share what the Lord has put on our hearts because we don’t have X-Y-Z and blah blah blah under our credentials.

Yesterday I shared a quote someone had vinyl pasted on a window. It read the following:

When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may take seconds to say, but for them it could last a lifetime.

My good friend reached out to me and began to encourage me in my walk with the Lord. She quite literally told me that she could see the passion in my words when I spoke at small group, and it brought tears to my eyes.

Friends, this culture we live in is desperate to drag us down. Its sole purpose is to make us believe we aren’t good enough and to tell us to sit down and shut up; that our words aren’t good enough, and we aren’t even good enough to share them in the first place.

So before I get back to my first question, let me take a second to encourage you. If you feel like the Lord has put something on your heart to share, first test it against Scripture. Does it match up with what the Bible says? Does it have a stabbing tone? Is it laced with gentleness and kindness? Is it made to build someone up?

If so, then don’t hesitate. Share it with your friends, family, social media followers, anyone and everyone! However, if there is hate or frustration or hurt interwoven in your words, rethink what you believe God is telling you. Hate and malice and pain do not come from God. While He does deliver justice, that isn’t our job. Leave that part up to Him.

Now it’s time to get back to my first question: how do we offer comfort while avoiding things that may end up hurting more than helping? Here are three things we can do to be there for one another without taking the easy road:

1) Take the time to sit and listen.

According to a study done by the University of North Dakota, when people know that they have friends that will be there for them when they are going through tough times, their ability to resist stress actually grows. Even the perception of knowing people are there for you, even when they cannot do anything to help your situation, helps with overall well-being.

I find that people don’t know what to do to support their friend simply because they don’t know how to fix the problem. But have you ever thought that your friend who is struggling doesn’t want you to fix their problem? Most of the time, they just want someone to talk to. They want to spend time with you and feel heard. By sitting down with them and just listening to their fears, frustrations, and pain, you are actually doing them a huge service by showing them that they are seen, heard and loved.

2) Acknowledge that their feelings do matter.

When I was in college, I was often met with the attitude that my feelings didn’t matter. Anytime I was met with some stress in my life, I instantly freaked out because I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t receive a lot of support at home, and I didn’t want to burden my friends with my seemingly insignificant issues. Therefore, as I grew older, I began developing this false reality that nothing that happened to me was a big enough deal to entertain the issue and I needed to just “get over it”.

Friends, do you realize how toxic of a mindset this can be? It literally trains you to believe that nothing in your life matters, your feelings don’t matter, and it can spiral into a false truth that you don’t matter. Depression can slowly seep between the cracks and flood us before we even know it. While you are listening to your friend detail the strain their life is enduring, take the time to replay back to them what they are saying (after they are finished speaking, of course!) and encourage them that their feelings do indeed matter.

3) Act on what you’re observing.

One of the biggest cop-outs we as friends can do is say “let me know how I can help you” or “is there anything I can do to help you feel better”?

Y’all, this is not only unhelpful, it can be hurtful.

If someone is in need of help and their struggles are based on their emotions (or something no one can fix), they won’t know how to ask for help. They won’t know what to tell you because, like I said before, there’s nothing you can physically do to help their situation get better.

So what do you do in this situation? Instead of asking, you act on what you’re observing. If you can see that your friend is getting his or her spark back simply by hanging out with you, propose another time to hang out. Spend time with them. Invest in them.

If you are seeing that they are starting to heal just by talking about what’s going on, spend more time talking with them – this can be texting, calling, Zoom-chatting, or hanging out in person!

If you see someone is feeling more encouraged by you interacting with her on social media, start doing it more! Share her posts, thoughts, and news. If she is asking for prayer, share her post and ask your own community for prayer on her behalf. When someone knows they have a multitude of believers praying for them, it can help them know they’re not alone.

October 2021 has been one of the hardest months of my entire life. Quite frankly, 2021 has been harder for me than 2020 was, and with giving birth in the middle of a pandemic, that says a lot. If I didn’t have the few friends who continually reach out to me, follow up with our previous conversations, and just make sure I know they’re there for me, I don’t think I would have made it this far.

So friends, hear me out. Even if you don’t know what to say, just take that first step. There are friends out there who are desperate to hear from someone, but they don’t have the strength to reach out themselves. They could be drowning and you have no idea. Take that first step in love and be brave. Know that the Lord is going to give you the words to speak and will support you no matter what.