After going through some years of struggles, I feel like I could write the handbook on how not to handle friends who are in pain.
I cringe when I think back to how I used to give trite answers and hold high expectations to those around me who were just barely surviving. It’s really hard to walk through pain with someone if you haven’t yet gone through one of those “the whole world is falling down around me” periods of life. People in pain are frustrating — when they just can’t seem to “get it together” and the profound answers you’re full-of don’t seem to stick.
I’m not talking about the people who have one or two obstacles in their lives and move with agility around them to quickly come up with a victory story. I mean the ones who seem to have multiple life-altering struggles that have left them leveled.
They must be doing something, I figured, to keep getting themselves there. Those people drove me nuts.
Until a few years ago, I became one of them.
And that’s when the frustration I had with the downtrodden melted.
It hasn’t been easy to erase from my mind those stupid things people said or did when I was at my lowest. Not easy … but necessary. I’ve concluded that being a safe person for others in their suffering requires a stance that can’t be exclusive to particular kinds of people or places of pain. The same soft-heartedness I desire to carry through a friend’s bitter story is what I need to fight to have for those who’ve misunderstood mine.
So, I think I’ve done enough to clearly state that walking recklessly through a friend’s mess can cause damage and I don’t want to stay there. Instead I want to spotlight the really cool things people in my life did that made me see Jesus. (Without the former I don’t know that the latter would have been so significant.) I’ve decided that some months of reprieve is enough distance for me to start looking back.
I think I’ll call a season which felt like a train wreck my greatest crown and glory and give you a few vignettes of God’s gentle touch on my life through people …
The one that stands out the most is a friend who knew my struggles with infertility were the undercurrent of lots of things gone wrong. I don’t know how she did it, but for a few months I received letters (some in my house — she had hidden them — and some mailed to me) of people she’d contacted whom I had mentored at some point in the past. Each of them wrote about how I had, in some way, influenced their lives.
She dropped me a lifeline when I felt like that if my life ended, any imprint I could have had would quickly wash away.
Another is a friend who recognized my need for massive amounts of space. (Some people like to have a hand to hold onto when they struggle. Me, I want an island, my bible and a chai tea latte.) After countless calls, emails and texts she dropped in my mailbox a box of organic kiddie snacks, appropriately Elmo-shaped. The message with them said something to the effect of “this always seems to turn my son’s mood around.” She spoke my love language.
Another friend sat with me while I wept those snotty, mascara-stained tears in Starbucks and told me she had great hope for my life when I confessed my desires to just die. And another spontaneously cried with me while telling me the greatest news of her life (she was pregnant), as she knew her gain would be a reminder of my loss. Another spent time with the Lord pleading on my behalf and writing me encouragement He sent to her for me. Another, texted and mailed me hand-written (and -made!) cards just to say she was thinking of me … often. And another gathered a team of people I didn’t know and asked them to seek God for His prophetic encouragement to me. Their prayers were recorded and emailed to me the next day.
Other friends who knew me all-too-well called on a Sunday afternoon and said “there’s something for you on our front porch.” I arrived at their house to find the item that, next to my wedding ring and my children, is on my short list of things-to-remove-if-the-house-is-on-fire. They gave me a label maker — the Bentley of label makers. Perfect gift for a woman who feels like her life is spiraling out of control.
And on … and on.
(Don’t be misled. The list isn’t so long because I have so many friends. Years of fetal-position meltdowns only allows for more opportunities to be comforted.)
The thing about each of these people is that I didn’t make it easy for them to love me in this way. I wanted to suffer in the silence of my home. And while I still wholeheartedly agree that some are wired to brave the longest stretch of the desert alone with God, while others require compatriots, God sent relief even when I wasn’t asking.
This was the beginning, for me, of seeing a new dimension to God.
I expected the “disappointed” Father who would tell me to buck-up when my walk had become a crawl. But instead He came as a gentle river. He scooped me up, surrounded me and carried me. I was on a holy people-mover and when I was certain my legs hadn’t moved an inch, somehow I found myself planted at the foot of the throne.
God, Himself — and through a few of His precious people here on this earth — showed me a gracious tenderness that made me never want anything else. After a drink of that, how could I ever give anything less than my all to this Man?
His gentleness once called to me. Then it intrigued me. And eventually it allured me. It wasn’t long before it enveloped me. And now … well, now, it’s starting to consume me.
Your gentleness has made me great.