Thursday, April 19, 2012

Being a Friend in the Painful Times

How does one help a friend to cope with the unbearable loss of a close loved one? Words offered for the sake of comfort are always well meaning, but can seem to hang impotently in space like a child’s soap bubble – pretty enough, but powerless to effect real change in the thick atmosphere of grief. The pain of loss can be so deep and profound that it numbs to the bone, defying even the most well-thought-out attempts at leveraging truth and beauty during life’s ugliest moments. It is a certainty - the painful times will come, intruding and disrupting our lives without mercy, leaving broken hearts and deflated spirits in their wake without discrimination. So what do we do? It just doesn’t seem right to not even attempt to bring comfort to those who are hurting. So we offer words of comfort and acts of kindness hurting for our grieving friends and desperately longing to say or do something to take the pain away.

I am especially feeling the weight of this recurring life challenge as it seems that over the last year or so, an incredible number of dear friends are suffering unbelievable and jarring losses within their families. Spouses have been taken in what should have been the prime times of their lives. A great wave of Parents who raised my generation are now completing their “Golden Years” and stepping out of the temporal and into the eternal. Close friends have been lost to both tragedy and disease and the losses seem to just keep on mounting. Even the celebrity ranks that entertained and informed us from childhood to adulthood are thinning and closing the books on their legacies – The conductor of the Soul Train and the Leader of the Bandstand have both permanently “left the building” and are now experiencing their eternal reward. I didn’t really know them, but I do know my friends and I hurt for them. Again, what do we do?

Galatians 6:2 offers some simple but challenging advice – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The picture here is of a person who is loaded down with a weight that was never intended for one person to carry and begs to be shared by others. It is an emotional mountain of a sack filled with pain, inner turmoil, anger and bewilderment that can sap the strength of the strongest champion and squeeze the hope out of the most optimistic cheerleader. It’s a burden brought on by life that’s just too much for one person. So the Lord has charged those who follow Him to come along and help. But what do you do? “Anything you can!” is my answer!

As I reflected on some of the most painful losses of my life thus far, I can remember clearly the generous outpouring of affection. I remember very little of what was actually said to me and little of all of the specific ways people supported me, but I remember faces, expressions and tones. I remember faces that reflected a sizeable effort to intentionally enter in to an awkward and uncomfortable situation to say what amounted to “Sam, I love you and I care!” Did anyone say anything inappropriate and insensitive? Probably. Nevertheless, strangely, I don’t remember the fumbles. I do remember the efforts and cherish the memory of friends who cared enough to let me know they cared. They were there and they tried to reach me and that is what mattered most of all. One of the aspects of the various social media I truly most appreciate is the ability these media provide for us all to at least “try”. Friends who may be far away during a time of trial are still able to still engage their hurting friends by saying in effect, “Though I can’t be with you, I care!”

So as the trials come, let’s love one another and bear each others’ burdens. If you’re geographically close, be present. Go visit. Prepare a meal. Offer a listening ear. Just sit there and be a friend. And make sure to come back after the initial flood of help has died down so that you can be there when your friend is really ready to talk. If you’re far away, send that line of condolence or press like when tributes are given in honor of those who have departed. Your interaction leaves a record that can be revisited later and becomes part of a great wave of condolence whose notice just can’t be ignored. How can receiving scores of greetings and words of acknowledgement not touch a hurting heart even if just a little? And remember to respond to the email/social media mail messages that the grieving friend may leave as they begin to ask the tough questions and really begin sorting through the loss. If you’re getting a message, you’re trusted and in a significant position to offer help that is more than a token effort.

In the end, my charge to us as a community of friends – even the virtual community of which we’re now a part - is to keep taking the time to be involved. Write, message, call and visit. Keep paying attention to the victories and the losses. Take the time to make a difference and to hold each other up when the weight of life just brings us to the brink of breaking. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Until next time…