How To Help a Friend in Crisis
Part of my role as a parish pastor is to care for people in crisis.
A dozen years into this work, I’m acutely aware that my attempts to help are often feeble, imperfect, and awkward. Still, I show up, hoping that grace will cover my many missteps.
I show up not because it’s my job - though by virtue of my vocation, it is. I show up because I believe in the power of presence.
Life is really freaking hard - but we don’t have to do it alone.
I recently had a conversation with a remarkable group of women about how to support one another amidst the storms of life. Much wisdom was shared around the circle - wisdom too good not to pass along.
Seriously. Go read it now. (If you’re procrastinating on that directive, know that it explains the Ring Theory. There’s someone at the center of every crisis, and a series of rings representing all the other people affected by the crisis. The closer you are to the person in the center, the smaller your ring. And the principle rule is this: comfort in, dump out.)
“What can I do?” is a well-intentioned question - but it’s a tough question to answer.
Instead, brainstorm several things you could do (bring a meal, pick up the kids, drop off paper goods). Send your friend this list and encourage them to let you know which ones would be helpful. They’re much more likely to take you up on the offer if the offer is concrete.
Don’t impose your interpretation of the situation on your friend.
Maybe she believes everything happens for a reason - but if she doesn’t, she doesn’t need (another) person insisting this is the case.
Think long term.
After the immediate crisis passes and everyone goes home, there may well be a long journey of grief.
Send a card after six weeks; another after six months. Mark significant anniversaries on your calendar so that you can reach out appropriately. (An especially painful and invisible milestone is the due date for a miscarried child.)
One woman organized a “joy train” for a friend who suffered a profound loss - for a full year, the members of their circle signed up to reach out to her each week.
If you are open to prayer, pray that your friend will receive the comfort and strength she needs.
Even if you do not engage in traditional prayer, you might consider “praying in color,” a spiritual practice introduced by Sybil Macbeth. To do so, you simply write the person’s name on a piece of paper and doodle around it - but doodle with the intention of surrounding that person with love.
I'm not really here to keep you from freaking out. I'm here to be with you while you freak out, or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart.
And that’s what this is all about: showing up with a loving heart. Feebly, imperfectly, awkwardly - and above all faithfully.
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