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.

Read this article.

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.

Pray.

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.

Kate Braestrup

And that’s what this is all about: showing up with a loving heart. Feebly, imperfectly, awkwardly – and above all faithfully.

Finally get how you
fit in the world.

If you feel like you missed the memo everyone else got about who they are and how they're wired...

...you didn't.

But this is the next best thing.

6 Comments

  1. Seana Turner

    I love your point about not assuming the way I see the situation is the way the hurting person might be seeing and experiencing it. I often say that we never truly understand what we haven’t experienced, and in situations of grief, even though I may have been through something similar, it is NOT exactly the same. We really are all different, influenced by our backgrounds and worldviews. Presence is everything.

    Reply
  2. Rita

    Really terrific advice! And thanks for the point to the Ring Theory article – very useful!

    Reply
  3. LS

    I really like that ring theory. This summer I lost my husband. Suddenly. We went to bed one night and everything was fine. Normal. I woke up a widow. At 49. With 2 teenage daughters. And when my aunt called a couple days later she told me that when she found out it was the 4th bad news she’d heard that day. And she told me all about the other 3. I know she meant well, but I sat right there and lied about needing to go because my sister in law was at the door. Because who says that? And even though I know she didn’t realize what she’d done, it still really hurt and I didn’t want to say something I’d regret. Then I did a lot of dumping out to other people. Cause right then I was at the center.

    Reply
  4. Linda Sand

    I was once the recipient of a prayer circle and it felt so good I had trouble admitting it when it was time to take me off their list.

    Reply
  5. John A

    Real great advise, misinterpreting a situation can be a big no no specially to someone going through a tough time. Just comfort and have them in your prayers.

    Reply
  6. Pamela List

    I work with people in crisis twice a week. They generally have very few friends as they are homeless or very poor. It can be isolating for them. I generally grab a few cold waters at the start of our meet-ups and just let them talk. There is no way I can fix all of there problems. It hurts but using tools like listening and not pretending I know how they feel are so hopeful. Many of my tools are how you treat a good friend. Anyway, great post. Happy Sunday!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get our weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where we share new stuff from the blog and podcast—that way you’ll never miss a thing. Tsh also shares other goodness from around the web... It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.

(You’ll also get her quick list of her 10 favorite essays and podcast episodes from around here, helping you wade through a decade of content.)