What do you do when someone you love is hurting?
What do you say?
When a loved one is hurting emotionally, physically, financially, professionally or relationally how do you respond?
At first I imagine most of us react the same way. We are quick to call, text or email. We show up with visits to the hospital and bring meals to the home. We listen, empathize and pray. We offer to babysit, make a phone call, do some networking or meet for lunch. We send encouraging notes that are tucked with verses of victory and strength. We cheerlead, motivate and preach. We repair stuff, help interpret diagnosis’s and research helpful articles. We do anything to help take away the pain so hope can thrive.
But what about when things don’t get better after a week, or two or seven? When weeks turn into months and months into years? How do you handle it then?
People I love have experienced significant hurt, long term hurt, no easy answers kind of hurt. Dear souls tangled in painful scenarios that just won’t go away. It’s impossible to not be affected. It hurts to journey with someone whose hurt goes on. Once you’ve emptied yourself of every encouraging deed and word you can think of you eventually collide with their pain. Now you both hurt.
So what do you do when you begin to feel their pain because things just aren’t getting better?
Do you run out of things to say? Do you stop asking because you don’t want to make it harder? Do your emails and calls slow or stop all together? Do you still come over for visits like in the beginning? Do you avoid them because it’s too hard? Do you think about them?
We had a long season of hurt in our home. For the first time ever we experienced long term unemployment during the recession. For a while it seemed as if the entire state was unemployed. People were wonderful to us. So much care, encouragement and support. But as weeks turned into months, which turned into years, things got quiet. Really quiet. I don’t think for minute that people didn’t care. I think people just didn’t know how to care anymore.
When relief and answers don’t come for our loved ones what exactly are we supposed to do?
There were a few people who were constant. We treasured their presence. One friend called weekly, without fail. She listened for countless hours to my dialog that never seemed to change. Her prayers, unwavering and undying. Another friend invited my husband to lunch. Every week. Without fail. There they talked about everything or nothing. He simply showed up. A beautiful couple never gave up hope that God would help us. At the most unexpected and poignant times they were His messengers of aid to us. It was uncanny. All of their gentle kindnesses pierced our darkness. None of them had answers or remedies, only their presence.
They hurt with us. They felt the pain of silence and loss along side us. They wrestled with their own expectations for God and people as they watched us slide deeper into hurt. They let themselves be hurt by our pain.
Sometimes you cannot do anything for others.
Sometimes you can only be with others.
A friend who enters the hurt of another.
Friends who risk being clumsy.
When we are willing to hurt with those who hurt we offer friendship in the lowest of places. The place where hurt persists and relief is out of sight.
These low places are the most desperate places of our soul, the place where fear rumbles and frightens. No one can ignore vulnerability here. Going into these low places, even for the sake of a loved one, means dealing with our own frailties, uncertainties, doubts and vulnerabilities. Everything that doesn’t get answered the way we want becomes front and center. I think this is why people don’t know what to do when the hurting goes on and on. They aren’t prepared to go that low. But love reaches deep. It gets muddy. It enters doubt.
Something unusual also happens when you go to the low places with a hurting loved one. Light begins to shine. It’s not like a brilliant full moon that illuminates the darkness. It’s more like a sky full of stars. Tiny dots of lights. Every hurting moment shared a new light pokes through the darkness. The starry night, a thing of beauty. The weathered soul in a weary place accompanied by the presence of loving friendship, a thing of beauty. I wonder if this is one of the greatest gifts we can give the world? To go into the lowest places with our loved ones, acknowledge their pain, let it rub against us? What if we don’t leave them alone? I wonder what good would come if we learned how to care for others when our encouraging ideas end and the hurt goes on? I wonder what would change if we learned how to get better at being “with” others? What if we were more like stars than the moon?
The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. ~Psalm 19:1-4