A few months ago, I asked my friend Christi to share a post about friendship. It is an honor to have her on the blog today as she shares how to help a friend in emotional need. I know this will resonate with many of you. From a woman who does friendship well…
I heard the FaceTime call on my iPad in the other room. Then my phone signaled I missed a text and began ringing. I fumbled to find a device that could tell me what was happening.
All the notifications were from the same friend – the one who told me that morning she wouldn’t have time to talk. Recovering from a major health incident, she didn’t think she would be up for a chat that day.
So my heart sunk. This couldn’t be good. When we finally connected, there was no sound at first. She couldn’t catch her breath between sobs.
She had just learned some demoralizing news about one of her children.
She finally began to form words, telling me of the angry things she had said to her child. Doubting herself as mother, harboring frustration with her husband, and feeling forgotten by God, she was hopeless and broken. Weakened from her physical trauma, she had no reserves and was hanging on by a thread.
What do you do when you get a call like that?
You can’t say it all. You have to choose. Like any emergency, you must triage the patient, deciding what needs to be addressed then and what must wait until she is stabilized.
If you are called to be a first responder for a friend in an emotional ER, here’s a quick lesson in CPR.
Console and listen
“A time to be silent and a time to speak.”
It may feel like you aren’t doing enough and you need to somehow fix it. But you can’t fix it. The first reaction to trauma is shock and your loved one needs to process.
Help her navigate through the waves of emotions by asking questions and reflecting back what you’re hearing are her deepest hurts. There’s something strangely comforting about hearing another soul identify the cries of your own.
But mostly, listen. And don’t forget to say, “I’m so sorry this happened.” Those few simple words morph into more than you can imagine as they land on the ears of someone who is hurting.
Provide hope at the appropriate time
“And how delightful is a timely word!”
The enemy will not hesitate to exploit the weakened soul to plant his lies. Hopelessness is one of his favorite fertilizers; once spread, there are so many other seeds he can grow.
After almost an hour, my friend had begun to run out of words. At that point I chose to speak:
“I understand it feels hopeless right now. But I love you too much to let the enemy plant that lie in your heart. God is never undone and never out of options. I know you can’t imagine how…and I don’t have answers either…but I stand on the truth of God’s promises … He will redeem this pain.”
I believe that people can’t hear the hope we offer for their hurt until they know we’ve heard how much it hurts.
Thus, administer this step slowly. Don’t rush into it.
Refute rash words or actions
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.”
In the heat of the moment, we all do and say things we regret. If a friend is contemplating actions or words you know will exasperate the situation, you may need to speak hard truth.
Don’t preach and don’t elaborate. There will be a time for sorting out appropriate emotions from lies and drama. This is simply a stopgap effort.
Just as you would apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, so you apply the necessary admonition to stop further damage to her relationships.
(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that if you think your friend has any tendency toward physically harming herself, you should get professional help. These basic thoughts are for the basic situations.)
I am still in touch with that friend, praying for her every day and checking in on her often. CPR is just the beginning. If God is calling you into the gap for a hurting friend, it may be a lengthy journey as you walk with her through the valley. If so, you’ll have plenty of time to talk about all that you chose not to say when you received the initial cry for help.
If you have a friend who has fallen and can’t get up, it may be time for more truth:
“When you’ve fallen and can’t get up”
And if you have the gift of encouragement, you may need some encouragement of your own, as this calling is not easy:
“Dear Encourager ~ 3 things we want you to know”
Christi Gee can be found at The Cheerio Trail ~ named for a trick she learned while teaching her three children to “cruise.” She learned that placing cheerios on the couch at strategic intervals would keep her children going. She has a passion for identifying the bits of ‘how-to,’ humor, and hope that help others get from here to there, and she celebrates the baby steps and the work done “in between” the milestones and victories of life.