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Friends in Need: How to Support Someone who is Struggling

So often when people are struggling those who love them WANT to help - but don’t know how. And when life is dark or tough, and your friends don’t know how to support you, it can end up with people who find themselves alone in their times of greatest need.

[0:01-0:50]: Hi, so in recent weeks I’ve been sharing here on some practical. Tips for how to manage some common challenges in this moment where mental health and emotional well-being has been under so much pressure. And today what I want to do is think a little bit about how you support someone else who’s struggling emotionally. Whether that’s because you’re struggling or because you’re the person who’s trying to support someone. This might be a mental health problem. It could be general life storms, pandemic stuff, or the impact of longer term physical health problems as well. I’m seeing a lot of people really who aren’t sure how to help people in the right way or hearing from people who are themselves struggling. And are just feeling really alone. Finding that people aren’t there for them in the way that they hoped they would be.

[0:51-2:48]: There’s this story in the old testament, which offers some really good insight into this and some great tips. It’s the story of Job this was a guy who looked like he made it. His life was going pretty much perfectly until catastrophe hit. In this moment, he lost his world, he suffered bereavement, disaster, physical health challenges all at once. The book of Job tells us how he coped with this horrendous time in his life. It also covers how his friends reacted, so if you’re not sure how to support someone: here are three top tips from Job’s story. Number one is do turn up be there for them. This is one thing that Job’s friends do really well in Job, Chapter 2. We hear that when they heard about what had happened to him, they did not hesitate. They dropped everything and they headed straight over to see him. It’s like an instinctive reaching out to someone in pain, but sometimes our own reaction to things mean that actually we become unsure and uncertain. And we don’t do anything because we don’t know what to do. If you’re not sure what to do, do something. There’s two things you can do. It’s about sympathizing, empathizing, just being with them in the awfulness of it all. That doesn’t mean you have to be super strong or emotionless. And it also doesn’t mean you have to be super cheery. Job’s friends are so gutted by what’s happened to him that they just sit with him and join him in weeping and mourning for everything that he’s lost. Can you do that for someone? To sit with them in pain and and say this is awful. And I’m gonna hold the difficulty and the unpleasantness and the distress of that. That’s powerful.

[2:49-3:46]: Then of course, when we’re with someone, we bring comfort. Here’s a quick note in this 21st century culture we’re in, to do that well Job’s friends have to shift themselves. The language says basically they leave their own spaces and come to him. That is so important in these social media obsessed days. Too often what I see is a lot of people who seem to just think that putting a huggy emoji or that little heart on a post is enough that. That isn’t being there for someone. To be there for them, you have to find a way to get to them. To be present. You know, sometimes that’s physically going and visiting or spending time with them. If you can’t be physically present, maybe they’re too unwell or you don’t live in the same space as them, think about other ways to do that phone calls, send in posts dropping something off on a doorstep. Let’s be creative, but let’s be there and bring comfort.

[3:47-5:41]: Number two then is about pulling together to support someone. It’s another genius thing that Job’s friends do. The story tells us they come together literally by appointment or arrangement. So often when tough times happen, everybody turns up in the moment the crisis. That time when disaster is just struck, there’s this like inundation of well-meaning love and practical supplies and flowers and visits. And it comes from such a good place. And in some ways, it’s really lovely, but honestly when you’re on the receiving end of that it, is often also just really hard. It’s exhausting, you have to keep answering the door. You’re having to say the same things and explain the same story again and again and again. And also, quite often people end up really struggling with things, like guilt or anxiety, because they’ve just got too much stuff. They could never eat all that food and their house looks like a florist. They start to panic and it just pulls another emotional load on top of the difficulty they’re already facing. But, what often happens next is in some ways even worse because then it goes quiet. The hardest time of coping with a longer season of illness or a major hit in life, like grief or loss, is that period after a funeral or in the days after an accident or when you’re just working on recovery. Maybe you’re not acutely ill anymore, but you still just don’t feel like yourself. Or all the awkward moments where people came and they pray for you and you didn’t seem to get healed and now it’s just tricky and nobody really knows what to say. And you’re dealing with the fact that your life has changed beyond all recognition and and everybody seems to have vanished. Let’s really focus on what we can do to love and support people for the long haul.

[5:42-6:14]: If you’re part of a friendship group or a church group or a home group, work together. Plan who’s gonna visit, who’s gonna drop off, what and when maybe. Have one person, who’s like a contact person, who chats to them about particular things that they need or that would be helpful. So they’re not inundated with a barrage of well-meaning people asking the same questions. Do what you need to do to arrange these things together, to sustain a steady source of love and comfort for however long it’s needed.

[6:15-7:00]: Number three is please be super careful with what you say and you know. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything. Job’s friends at first do something incredible. So right faced with the shock of what’s happened and the magnitude of it all, they just sit with him in silence. And actually they do that for seven days and seven nights. That’s a phrase that in the old testament doesn’t mean literally necessarily seven days and seven nights, it’s a perfect number. What it means is just the right amount of time that’s silent, just sitting with sharing pain, and awfulness with someone. That’s so powerful

[7:01-8:44]: Please be very careful about feeling you need to fill that space with words. Sometimes that’s about our inner need. We want to be the solve it. If you did become inspired with something brilliant to say please, be particularly careful about jumping into bad theology. There’s this psychological effect called the just world hypothesis, what that is to do with is how we can make errors when we’re trying to understand for ourselves why bad, difficult things happen. And in order to protect ourselves from a really uncomfortable truth. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck. This could just as easily have happened to us. To protect ourselves from that, we effectively blame the people it has happened to so that we can justify in our own heads, why this would never happen to me. I wouldn’t react like that. I wouldn’t end up there. I would have made a different decision. I would never parent my kids like that. I live a healthier lifestyle than that. As people of faith, that can then hit our theology and get mixed up with that inner drive we have to to try and make the world a simpler, easier to understand space. Where bad things only happen for clear reasons. All suffering is not due to unconfessed sin in someone’s life.

[8:45-10:19]: No, God doesn’t heal everyone. Living a spiritually good life does not protect you from anything bad ever happening to you or your loved ones. This is about holding mystery and accepting that we don’t have all the answers. Let’s not oversimplify things. We need to be so careful of our own anxiety of someone sharing intensely difficult pain or distress. It’s like this instinctive twitch we can have to try and explain it away or distance ourselves from the pain or just to give easy solutions. Be aware that even if you do have really good advice or points or ideas to share that can still be really tricky. If the person you’re talking to is exhausted or desperate or in pain, we don’t always respond well to well-meaning advice when we’re in those spaces. So ask yourself, is this really the right time to say this? Am I the right person to give advice? Do they need more advice? Do they already have doctors and therapists and professionals and people who are supporting them in that way? Do I just need to to care and be there?

[10:20-12:14]: In Chapter 16, he talks about something he wishes his friends would do and that is speak encouragement. That’s not toxic positivity or denying that there’s grief or pain, but it is about doing what we can to bring moments of light and life and laughter. Seeing goodm even in the midst of bad. Providing fun where we can. Keeping connection and being defiantly creative about how we do that. To keep someone we love going through the most difficult of times. In chapter 17, Job talks about something else incredibly powerful. What he’s saying ultimately is he’s turning to God for that, but he also says who else is going to do this for me. It’s a cry from the heart and what that is about support that’s in it for the long haul. It’s a pledge, a promise of something that’s going to be reliable that someone can depend upon. Real friendship isn’t about a one-off token visit or gesture. It’s not just about the sunny days, it’s defiantly, repeatedly, consistently being there in the highs and lows. The good and bad. Even if that lasts for a long time. Job uses this word which literally means to be a guarantor. You know, that’s someone who says if you can’t pay your mortgage or your bills. I’ll pay them for you. In this context, we’re called and encouraged and inspired to be a guarantor of something much more powerful - hope. But what job is saying here is who else is going to do this for me. Who is going to hold hope for me.

[12:15-13:35]: When we’re struggling, there are moments and seasons where as the people caught in darkness, we might not be able to do that ourselves. Having someone else who you know holds hope for you. Saying to someone you’re caring for, I get that right now the darkness is just suffocating and overpowering, but I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m going to hold that hope for you. Making sure that they always know that and then the moments when they can’t see it themselves, they know that you see something that can get people through. Let me just end with a super quick prayer. God, make us all better supporters for people we know who desperately need it. Help us to be aware of our own stuff, understanding their stuff, and carrying the most important stuff - your super natural hope and light and life. May we always bring that and the comfort that is so desperately needed to the places and the people who long for something to bring light to their darkness. In the name of Jesus, Amen

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