If you have a friend who is struggling and don’t know how to help, perhaps start by getting together. Be prepared to come close — not standing on the edge, waiting to be asked, but willingly entering the messiness of pain. It probably means listening and praying more than speaking, along with offering specific help as you are able. It also means being willing to share the hope and comfort that God has given you, confident that your witness will not be in vain.
We all want to help when our friends are hurting, but we may not be sure where to begin. Do we give them space and tell them to call if they need anything, or do we dive in and try to fix everything? Do we ask questions, or do we wait for them to initiate and speak? While the answers are unique to each person and situation, I’ve learned a great deal from my ministry to suffering people (as well as from my own experiences of loss).
The first thing God calls us to do for our hurting friends is to pray. It may be helpful to divide our prayer into three areas — their spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. So, we can pray that they would turn to the Lord Jesus and find peace in him even in their trial. We might pray for daily strength, physical healing, and financial provision. And we could pray that they not feel anxious or afraid, and that they’d be surrounded by caring friends.
We can also pray for ourselves. I ask the Lord to prompt me to pray for hurting friends regularly and to show me what to pray. I also ask him to help me fulfill my good intentions and to make my efforts toward them fruitful (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
In addition to prayer, though, there are other tangible ways to minister to hurting friends. Four ways that I’ve found particularly helpful are represented by the acronym SLOW. That acronym reinforces that God is working even though change seems slow, and it reminds me that I need to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19).
Having people show up is critical in the early days of loss and even long afterward. God created us to live in community. It is not good for us to be alone. We need each other, and wanting company is not a sign of weakness. Even Jesus wanted friends with him in his anguish, asking them to wait, watch, and pray (Mark 14:32–35).
In Job, we see the importance of this presence. When Job’s friends first heard of his enormous suffering, “they made an appointment together to come and show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). They didn’t remain at a distance. “They raised their voices and wept” with him (Job 2:12).
Sometimes we don’t show up because we don’t know what we’ll say. But we don’t need to have eloquent words, or any words — just our presence and love. Personally, I always welcome dark chocolate or salty snacks, but we don’t need to bring anything. Just being there can give people strength to move forward, knowing that they are not alone.
Few people are anxious to hear mini-sermons in the midst of their pain. Most would prefer to have friends listen or just sit with them in silence. On this score, Job’s friends were a good example (at least for seven days) when they sat with Job without saying a word (Job 2:13).
For the rest of the book, however, they berated him till he begged, “Listen closely to what I’m saying. That’s one consolation you can give me. Bear with me with me, and let me speak . . .” (Job 21:1–2 NLT).