What to do when someone you love is suffering

Heidi Charalambous

For about five years, my husband and I moved from one medical crisis to another. Friends and coworkers asked how we were and listened intently as we updated them on my mom’s progress post-paralysis, the latest setback in our attempts to start a family, or the newest milestone in my husband’s recovery — first from a near-fatal bike wreck and then from a rare, near-fatal cancer. 

But often, when I would turn to them and ask, “How are you?”, their cheeks would flush and they’d look away. 

“This will seem so small compared to what you guys are going through…”

“You don’t want to hear about me...” 

Oh, but I do! And if you have a friend going through hard times, I can promise you he or she does, too. 

Why We Want to Hear From You

Hearing others’ struggles and successes was a relief, not a burden, in those difficult seasons. It reminded us that doctor’s offices and waiting rooms were part of our lives, but they were not our whole lives.   

Suffering can be self-consuming if we let it. One gift you can give a friend going through hard times is to get them out of their own head for a while. 

When suffering comes, the easy thing to do is to quit everything and focus on the problem at hand. You can spend every minute of every day researching treatments, reading blogs, weighing your options, and hiding from the world.  

People are hesitant to ask more of you when they know you’re hurting. No one expected me to show up to birthday parties or volunteer meetings, and many days, I needed that grace. But sometimes, this desire to unburden your hurting friend can remove the thing they need most: You. 

You Don’t Need to Have All the Answers

Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” When our spirits are crushed, we need friends to bring joy and laughter into our lives. 

Tell the story about what your kid called the lady in the checkout line last week. Reveal your latest Pinterest fail, and catch them up on the new office craze. These moments don’t belittle someone’s pain. They remind us there is life outside the pain.

What’s more important than having all the answers is being present. 

Share what you’re praying for and how God is comforting you right now. God comforts all of us in our troubles, “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). 

Too often, we allow the fear of not knowing what to say convince us that we shouldn’t engage. You might get it wrong sometimes, but that’s OK. What’s more important than having all the answers is being present. 

You Are the Best Gift You Can Give to a Friend

The last thing hurting people need is to be cut off from community. Over and over, the Bible points us back to each other because we were meant to journey through life together. 

When you travel alone, you see and experience a lot. But when you travel with someone else, you see and experience so much more. Other people draw our attention to things we didn’t see on our own, and our experience is richer for having shared it.  

The same is true when it comes in seasons of suffering. Our understanding of God’s character deepens as we share the experience and benefit from each others’ perspective.
While you’re looking at us to share the wisdom we’re gaining through suffering, we’re looking to you: 

So let your friend tell you what they need. Keep inviting. Keep including. Give grace when they can’t make it, and welcome them in when they can. 

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