10 Things Every Friend Needs When They Are Hurting

Friendship

The day after my son died, was the day I knew my life had changed forever.

My sorrow was so overwhelming, I didn’t know what I was feeling, or what I needed, or how I would make it through. I was miserable, and I was equally miserable to be around. Despite the sorrow I was drowning in, I pushed every single friend away. I didn’t know anyone who was going through “my” pain and it was just too much work emotionally bringing anyone else in.

My dad (Gary Smalley) broke through my sorrow and showed me what it meant to be present. He showed up everyday, starting in the hospital asking me what I was feeling at that very moment and then encouraging me to soak up and feel “that” feeling to the maximum all day long. I would wake up every morning, and he was there, in my face, asking me the same question day after day.

Then, he started asking me to thank God. I refused to thank God for the death of my son. It was too much. It was against everything my heart wanted to do. I would NEVER feel thankful. Finally, one day (hiding in the bathroom) I decided to take my dad up on his challenge and thank God. I didn’t feel thankful, but I decided to just say the words… thank you, God. I started doing this day after day, and then God did something miraculous in my heart. My heart started to heal. My heart started to feel. My heart started to forgive. My heart started to love. My heart started to feel joy again.

I learned something incredible during my sorrow. God loves me. God never abandons. God is in control. God heals the brokenhearted. It’s been 19 years since the death of my son and I’ve continued to practice the act of thankfulness during the painful seasons of my life. He has always been faithful. God radically changed my life and started me on a different path full of impossible miracles and adventures. He turned my heart into a big sponge and showed me how to love big with compassion, kindness, and encouragement.

Here are 10 things every friend needs when they are hurting:

  1. Be present: There is tremendous power in just being there. It doesn’t mean words, it doesn’t mean a lecture, and it doesn’t mean trying to fix it. Just simply being present to love and nurture and encourage, as a faithful friend.
  2. Listen and listen some more: Take the time to call and check up on your friend (daily if needed) so they know they are not facing their sorrow alone. Listen with an open heart. Listen with self-control. Listen without judgment.
  3. Pray together: This might be the most powerful way to help a friend. Praying through with a friend will automatically bring a common thread of togetherness. Praying for the impossible and hoping for the impossible. Praying will bring unity in the heart and allow God to work through both of you.
  4. Find something to laugh about: Laughter can be the best medicine. When I’m hurting, it means the world to me when my friend makes me laugh or plans a special girls-date to keep my mind off the sorrow. Sometimes a fun activity can help keep her mind off the serious aspects of her pain.
  5. Hold her hands and don’t let go: Remind your friend over and over again, you will not abandon her, no matter how hard the situation becomes. You will be there for her during the good, bad, and ugly.
  6. Validate her feelings: We can remind a friend to feel their feelings (whatever they are) to the maximum. If we minimize feelings, we don’t have the opportunity to grow from our pain. God created feelings and each feeling plays an important part during a painful season.
  7. Normalize her pain: There is nothing worse than feeling alone and vulnerable in our pain. Be willing to share your own grief story and that “you’ve been there, too.” It helps to know that we are not the only ones suffering.
  8. Be sympathetic to her sorrow: Resist saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” Most of the time, we have no idea what a friend might be going through, but that’s ok. We can share that even though I’ve never experienced exactly what you’re going through, pain is pain and I’m feeling with you.
  9. Only provide advice when asked: If she is open, be willing to share advice. I have found, the best advice can simply be reminding her to self-care. Self caring is vital to the healing process, especially during the grieving process. We can often forget to take care of “us” when we feel beat up emotionally.
  10. Remind your friend to be thankful: This might be one of the most difficult challenges. God asks us to be thankful in all things. Even when we don’t feel like being thankful, helping a friend give thanks for her sorrow can start the motion forward for healing and miracles.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
James 1: 2 – 4

Share with me in the comments, what is the best thing a friend has done for you when you are hurting?

Photo Gallery: I asked you on Facebook to share a photo of a friend who loves you during the good, bad, and ugly. Thank you to everyone who shared! #TBT

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29 Comments

  • Denise says:

    Precious words of your heart. I am thankful today for everything Jesus did for you then and everyday since then. Love u so much!

    • Kari Gibson says:

      Denise, you were there with me during the most darkest hours of my life. You held my hand and NEVER let go. I pushed sooooo many friends away and I wish I would have known now what I needed back then. I still feel the sting losing friendships over loss, but so thankful that I can walk with a friend through her sorrow so much better now! love you!

  • Chris K says:

    It’s been 10+ years since my son died. And only about 3 since I have been able to forgive God and thank Him. I wish like crazy my bio son was still here, but I also know the two children I have through adoption wouldn’t be with me. (our first son was adopted 9 years ago today)

    One of the things that helped through that first year was a simple card. Received every month. Telling me they were praying for me. From complete strangers. When others thought I should ‘move on’ these strangers were still lifting me and my grief up to God.

    Everything you mentioned though is right on target. No words. Just be there.
    Chris

    • Kari Gibson says:

      Chris, it’s amazing how a friend can completely change the course of our grieving process. My love language is gifts … but cards are part of that. I feel SO loved when someone takes the time to give me a card. One of my very best friends is my sister in law, Erin and she would write me the most beautiful cards during my sorrow! I still have them to this day!

  • Andrea says:

    My best friend Kendra was RIGHT THERE as I walked away from the hardest goodbye I have ever said. She literally caught me as my knees buckled and held me as I went into my ugly cry. That moment makes me love her more and seals us forever as friends :)

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