It’s been said that God won’t give us too much too handle. But there are times when life is altogether too much to handle.
How friends help in suffering and difficulty can make a world of difference.
Maybe you’re the friend or maybe you’re the one going through tough times. Perhaps there’s been a diagnosis making life fragile and the future murky or a financial collaps changing life as you know it forever. Maybe, it’s the unthinkable death of someone you never expected to lose so early and you find yourself wondering whether you’ll ever smile again.
That’s where I found myself seven years ago. Life as I knew it shattered into a thousand irreparable pieces but in that unwanted and unexpected difficulty, friends were one of the lifelines that helped me get through. I can honestly say I would not have navigated that season of suffering like I did without my friends.
Here’s how friends help in suffering and difficulty.
1. Friends give us courage when we don’t have it.
“Will you pray for me? This is so hard,” I texted a friend a few weeks after my husband died. I felt like I was now being buried with paperwork, endless decisions, the black hole of grief all while trying to shepherd my children through their grief.
She texted back a picture I’ll never forget. It was a roomful of women and their children praying on their knees. They’d stopped right then, in the middle of their homeschool classes, to pray for us. Those prayers that came with a picture of their love gave me strength when I didn’t have it.
To encourage means “to give someone courage, to hearten or uplift.” We can encourage friends through a hand-written card, an act of kindness or a timely Bible verse sent by text. We can also encourage a friend on important dates like the due date after a miscarriage or the first Mother’s Day after a friend’s mom passes away.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” If you’re going through a season of difficulty, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends. When a friend says “let me know how I can help,” respond with a specific prayer request or a particular need you have.
2. Friends offer a listening ear.
Our friends can’t fix our difficulty — that’s God’s job. But friends can offer a listening ear. Sometimes, we just need to talk it out. The act of sharing what’s on our heart makes the burden lighter and I’ve found that talking through helps me process what’s been circling through my mind. As a single mom and widow, that is gold. Proverbs 17:17 tells us that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
One important caution here: we need to keep from going to friends when we really need to go to God. Praying about it is our first choice because as comforting as flesh and bones can be, God has the wisdom we need. Too, there’s a fine line between sharing our heart and overburdening a friend. There might be details we can’t tell someone else or emotions too deep for words.
In those times, we need to take our hearts to God, who knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us deeper than anyone ever could. And while friends can listen and help, ultimately, we need to rely on God for wisdom, guidance and the comfort only he can bring.
3. Friends help us find joy in the hard.
Unexpected suffering can make us wonder whether we’ll ever feel real joy again. I assumed I’d be happy if and after I made it through the deep season of grief. Surprisingly, I learned God brings joy right in the midst of difficulty.
Joy softens the brutal edge of suffering. It helps lift our mind off our circumstances and onto the good God has for us. It’s sweet relief in the middle of difficulty and a reminder that God is present with us in the hard.
Proverbs 17:22 tells us that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Sometimes that joy comes around the dinner table with family or through a sweet personal love note from God. But friends can also help us find joy again.
I saw this in spades when my oldest daughter turned 18, just two weeks after my husband died. I was fighting such dark sadness, I couldn’t imagine throwing a party. And yet, we needed to celebrate her and mark this milestone birthday. Friends came to our rescue. Whole families showed up at a spot for Christian ballroom dancing, all donned in pink in her honor. They showered her with pink balloons and pink cakes. They spent the evening dipping and salsa-ing, eating and celebrating. As we loaded into the van that night my daughter turned to me with a deep smile: “That’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.” Only God, I thought. Only God and godly friends could bring that kind of joy in the midst of suffering.
4. Friends help anchor us in changing circumstances.
Going through difficulty ushers in all kinds of change. We often have less energy and time for outside activities. We might have a change in income, a job change or even a move. Seasons of suffering bring change to normal routines and interests.
Amidst those changes, the continued devotion of a steady friend is an anchor. Proverbs 18:24 says a real friend “sticks closer than a brother.” But here’s the rub: while many friendships will continue as you navigate hardship, some won’t. Some people you thought were friends won’t know how to respond to your difficulty and those friendships may wane. Give them grace and let it go.
Because some friends WILL understand your hardship and those friendships will be become even deeper. Communication is key here. Make sure your friends know if you have less time or energy in this season so they don’t think you’re simply pulling away.
5. Friends remind us to help others in our own need.
This one is important. So often in difficulty, we can become hyper-focused on our problems and our needs. Part of that is because we’re simply trying to process and survive, but it can cause us to become too self-absorbed.
Friends balance that. They help us lift our eyes off our need to see theirs. Philippians 2:4 says, “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
My friend Rhonda demonstrated this beautifully. She showed up the day before my husband’s funeral with no agenda but to help with whatever needed done. She worked quietly, and I don’t know everything she did, but I saw here in the kitchen and then ironing my children’s clothes for their dad’s service. Months later, I learned her family had been walking their own season of intense suffering, yet she had taken time to help us in ours.
We need to be both the friend open enough to ask for help and the friend willing to offer it. Deep friendships are a gift from God and a lifeline when we’re treading tough times. God tells us “two are better than one” because “if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecc 4:9-10)
My husband died a year ago and I’m not ever going to be the same. We were together for 59 years and I was his caregiver for the last several years. Sometimes I feel ok and other times I just fall apart and cry. Actually, I cry pretty much every day. I pray, read my prayers books, read my Bible (he read his Bible daily too), say the Lord’s Prayer/Apostles Creed/Psalm 23/Psalm 100 every day (sometimes several times during the day). I’m alone and I’m ok with being alone since my kids are both married and in their 50s. It’s just that I miss his face, voice, touch, friendship…I even miss taking care of him. I have pictures of him and me and scripture all over my kitchen cabinets so I can see him and read the scripture daily. I talk to my kids, sisters, family and church family but I miss him so…
Lisa Appelo says
Oh Carol, that lifetime of love is deep gift and also the deepest grief. What a picture of covenant – to love through every season. I’m sure you have so much you could teach and share with younger women. I’m praying for you now as you walk this painful journey, but one God will tenderly care for you on.