It’s time to fess up. I know I’m not the only one who’s faced a heart-wrenching, life-altering announcement in my life. In fact, at this very moment I’m writing, a friend sits in a waiting room aching to be mildly comforted by hourly updates as his wife’s brain surgery is underway.
We are not the only ones who’ve warmed those cold, cracked seats, huddled under blankets to keep our hearts from beating out of our chests during the grueling hours on opposite sides of life-or-death OR doors. We are not the only ones who’ve questioned God, “Me? Our family? Are you sure? Because I’d rather not do this…but I will if this is Your way.” (See Matthew 26.)
So our friends are not the only ones who’ve been faced with how to walk with someone through a difficult, unwanted journey. If you are that someone’s friend, holding elbows to keep him on his feet through rickety, slippery steps; brushing back ragged hair from tear-stained eyes; and grasping white-knuckled fingers while she answers the phone call update with the other hand, you are important! Your friend needs you now more than ever! Here are a few things that kept me going through relentless hours fighting for Annie’s life.
1. Be there. Don’t think that it’s someone else’s job or assume your friend’s mom, sister, coworker, neighbor, community group leader, etc. will be there. They very well might be! But that doesn’t mean that you are not needed too. If someone in your life is going through intense difficulty, vow to be on the attendance list. Be willing to get into the mess that he may feel. Suffering isn’t contagious, but it’s much lighter shared.
2. Be silent. Closely related to #1, but not exactly the same. When you are present at your friend’s side, when you step into that ICU room, when you wait in the hospital lobby, say everything you want to say before you get there and only to yourself. Some people, afraid to say the wrong thing regarding the incidence, talk about the weather or the traffic or whatever. Even dry, unrelated conversation isn’t helpful. Silence can often bring the firmest presence and the loudest message. Remember that these are sacred, fragile times you’re sharing with your loved one. No need to ruin them with your story of your secretary’s cousin’s brother who faced something sort of similar that one time… And besides, when your friend is ready to talk you’ll already be listening.
3. Initiate serving your friend on your own. Honestly, people in such dire need living in survival mode don’t readily know how to communicate their needs. How can they remember that the yard isn’t getting mowed or even that their other child will need dinner later that evening? The capacity for normalcy isn’t always there. So instead of a general, “Let me know if you need anything,” however sincere, suggest an activity that might need doing. “Can I get groceries for you this week?” “I set up someone to mow your yard and I picked up your mail.” (I was shocked to be reminded that there was still mail being delivered to my mailbox thousands of miles away while I was in CICU nightmare land.) “I’ll be happy to login and pay your bills online.”
4. Let your friend feel whatever she feels without judgment. A very fitting quote says, “Don’t please yourself with thinking how piously you would act and submit to God in a plague, famine, or persecution. Rather, be intent upon the perfection of the present day, and be assured that the best way to show true zeal is to make little things the occasions of great piety.” If your friend is expressing disbelief, heartache, and transparent struggles, listen, affirm feelings, and pray. Do not try to preach away the faith journey that he might be on. I highly valued two friends who, after three weeks of incessant bad news regarding Annie where doctors finally told us to “enjoy today,” I could share my deep grief and disbelief with. I remember texting them, “I keep praying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can heal.’ But for some reason He won’t.” It wasn’t time for them to text me James 1:2-4 or Romans 8:28. It was time for them, as they fittingly did, to text back, “I don’t understand it either.”
I know this is a short list, but please understand how important it is. I know that for me, I wouldn’t have had the mental stamina to get up and keep going so many recent days without my friends and loved ones to lean on.
There is likely someone like that in your life. Please be the one he or she can count on. Please be willing to walk this road with that friend. Please be Jesus to that friend today, not with words or preaching or vain promises to pray. Be Jesus by being there to lavish unconditional love and service when it’s most needed.
And I finally have the capacity to say a HUGE thank you to the friends who have and still are carrying me through: my mom, my sister, Brandi, June, Erin, Emily V., Paige, Lida, our d-group, and our church and work communities. THANK YOU for loving us and stepping into our suffering hearts! I know what to write because of what you did!