It can be so hard to know what to do when someone you love is going through a tough time. We all go through things, so you would think that we would all know just what to say, right? Yeah, but we don’t. Each person has different struggles, and what may be a severe challenge for one person may not be much of a struggle for someone else. Also, we all come with our own personalities, baggage, and God-given gifts making our experiences so different. Even if we are experiencing the same type of hardship we may go through it completely differently. This is okay and even good, but it also makes things harder when we try to help each other. Sometimes we have really good intentions in the things that we say, but they turn out to be unhelpful or even hurtful to someone who is raw with emotional pain. When we are in tender places, an ill-timed comment that may be given with the best of intentions can still cause intense pain. How can we help people when they are struggling like this?
The Bible has a lot to say about struggle. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have troubles.” (emphasis mine) We know that we will go through hard times, but what do we do when the people we love the most are going through things that we just cannot understand? How can we help them?
One person I love to look to for direction on hard times in Job. He had it pretty darn rough, and what he goes through with his friends is a perfect example of what to do and what not to do when someone you love is struggling. Job’s 3 friends first try to find a reason for everything happening to him, and the conclusion they come to is blame. In keeping with popular philosophy at that time they believed that Job must have done something wrong to deserve all this, and if he would just figure out the awful sin he was committing, then bad stuff would stop happening to him.
Blame is an easy trap to fall in because this gives us a degree of control in an uncontrollable situation. If we can be good enough, we will escape those bad things. Or, if the person we love can just figure out what is wrong and fix it then they don’t have to suffer anymore. It sounds pretty good and easy, but as we know, life does not really work that way. Job is adamant that he has not committed any sins, and getting this blame from his friends just makes him feel worse. Though I am sure his friends had the best intentions, they were not helpful to Job at all, and even made the situation more traumatic for him. When a loved one struggles it can be tempting to tell them exactly what you think they should do, but this is not always the best approach to the situation.
Here are some practical ways to help those who are struggling:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Laura Dempsey is a licensed social worker and therapist with nearly 20 years of experience counseling children and families.