You can find Part 1 about ways to help in times of crisis over here. But as I asked a few folks about what helped in difficult times, I also learned a lot about what hurts in difficult times. So here’s Part 2 – what not to do when you’re trying to help.
When a friend is going through a valley, we tend to think of it as one of three things…
- God is chastening him for a sin he’s committed;
- The devil is fighting him; or,
- We don’t have a clue, but is he still mowing the church lawn this weekend?
But sometimes crises aren’t necessarily of supernatural origin. Sometimes valleys just… happen. Bodies deteriorate, become diseased, and die; economic downturns lead to layoffs; accidents occur. It’s what we call “reality”. (Cue Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life”.)
Here’s how not to “help” hurting friends.
- Not responding at all. It’s tempting to avoid talking about it, as if ignoring a problem makes it go away. If you read Part 1, you know to follow up prayer with definite action, but come on. A generic “Praying for you!” is better than complete radio silence. This is especially true if you are (or used to be) particularly close to the person going through the difficulty.
- Panicking. “You have cancer? Why aren’t the doctors doing ________?” “You lost your job? What happens to your kids, can they still stay in school?” When the victim really needs time to sort through the news himself and get comfort from loved ones, he finds himself expending copious energy trying to comfort everyone else. If the news truly freaks you out, take time to calm yourself and pray before taking your fear out on the person you’re trying to help.
- Trying to quickly restore normalcy. “I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s passing. Can we talk now about that church dinner you’re organizing for next week?” Bad timing. Instead, offer to take on a few responsibilities. Depending on the circumstances, it may not have to be a permanent position for you, but it will give her time to grieve, get things back in order, and recharge. Do everything you can to prevent a friend from burnout.
- Assuring them that it’s no big deal, it’s been licked before. “Brother So-and-so went through the same thing, and if he can make it through it, so can you!” Um, sorry, but it is kind of a big deal. One person may survive a crisis unscathed; another makes it with many cuts and bruises. In the case of illness or death, sometimes the problem can never be solved. A very old and wise preacher once said, “All the people that Jesus healed, eventually died.” Recognize that this time, it may not happen for them the way it did last time.
- Assuming that God will “fix” everything. God doesn’t always heal. He typically won’t raise from the dead. He doesn’t necessarily replace what you’ve lost right away. Try to understand that often, God’s intention is not to fix a bad situation; He may be bringing your friend to a place that He must bring her through, not snatch her out of. Pray, help and listen – but don’t approach her situation like it’s just a temporary glitch.
Are you noticing a pattern here? Often, most of the things people do to “comfort” are actually self-comforting – coming from a mindset of denial. We want everything to “work out” so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable, but we tend to overlook the fact that this is a very real trial for the other person.
Your turn: What helped you most when you faced a crisis? What did you learn not to do?