Written by Sam Chia, Singapore
The older we get, the more likely we are to face trials; call it growing up, if you will. And even if trials don’t plague us, we’re bound to hear of loved ones who have to face them.
Over the years, I’ve heard from different friends about the struggles they have had to go through. Some have experience things too painful for me to understand. In the past couple of months alone, I have heard of a few breakups, a betrayal in a relationship, and an illness scare.
Although I knew that the Bible calls us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11), it came to a point that I was exhausted. It became difficult, draining, and daunting to be consistently there for friends who were mostly on their lows and lamenting their suffering bitterly and negatively.
I blame it on my own lack of patience or empathy that I got easily discouraged when supporting my friends. But it was also as I went through one disappointment after another (with myself), that I started to reflect on practical ways that would help me persevere on this journey with my friends.
1. Involve other members of the community
Recently, a friend told me about her struggle through a break-up. It being a personal and private matter, she was initially unwilling to tell more people about her feelings. But knowing how having another person in the “support group” would help my friend—and myself—I suggested it anyway, and thankfully she agreed.
This new confidant added a new dimension to the conversation, and relieved me when I was just too tired to reply. Having someone else to share the burden and time needed to care for someone allowed me time to reflect and rest, so that I could persevere longer during trying moments.
For me, it was also a lesson that I am not able to completely meet my friends’ needs and that they need a bigger community of people who love them.
2. Give practical tips in addition to pointing them to God
More often than not, our friends who are Christians, already know that they ought to trust God and cling onto His promises through challenging periods. And many times, it requires discernment and wisdom to know when to remind them of God’s truth.
In the meantime, we can also provide them practical tips to help them get through everyday life. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I chanced upon some tips and suggested that my friend do some of them as a practical measure to help herself. She unfollowed certain accounts on social media, went out to do things instead of staying home all day, and listened to a playlist that I put together for her.
For another friend, who was suffering from panic attacks and insomnia, I suggested some simple counting or breathing exercises to help her get through the moments of despair and long nights. She eventually sought professional help (which was a good decision and something we hoped she would choose) and still holds on to these counting exercises for those bad moments.
While practical tips do not solve the root cause of the problem, they serve as helpful methods to help my friends get back on their feet again, so that they can slowly seek God in their time.
One thing I realized as I journeyed with my friends over the past couple of months was that I had underestimated the energy it took to support someone, and overestimated my own ability to remain steady and unaffected by the problems or issues I heard. I had always thought of myself as someone who could separate what I heard and saw from what I believed about God and life. But as I walked my friends through times of betrayal, confusion, and darkness, I realized that my own fears and uncertainties grew as well.
Thankfully, I had strong support from other friends, and began to value having a separate outlet where I could voice my frustrations and uncertainties as well as obtain advice from—while keeping the identity of my other friends private.
But perhaps, the most important lesson I’ve learned through all this is that I am not my friends’ Savior—God is. And God brings people the counsel and comfort they need in His time and plan (1 Cor 12:25-26). I’m thankful that despite moments when I missed a text or call from a friend in need, he or she found others to confide in. And though that might sound trivial, it is a freeing truth because it shows that God ultimately, is the one who cares for my friend far more than I can ever do.
And so I take heart, for the Lord Jesus is the ultimate comforter and understands best the fears of our human hearts—both our friends’ and our own.