Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

How to (Really) Help Hurting Friends: The Art of Not Fixing

Her face is wet with tears, her trembling hands twisting and untwisting a tissue. Her words are grief and sorrow and fear. My heart cracks in me, full of my friend’s choking hurt. And I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for any of my hurting friends.

These weeks between winter and spring have been full of unsolvable pain for many of my loved ones: lost family, lost jobs, frightening medical news, anniversaries of life-altering events. Others ask prayer for big decisions or money that’s not showing up. And I can’t make it better for any of them.

God knows I hate this. I’m a natural-born solver and strategizer, habitually striving to prove my worth. I feel deeply and want to fix the hurt of the whole world. But instead of mending the entire planet, I’m entrusted with the wounds of those close to me.

This is the way of community in this beautiful between. It’s a sacred privilege to enter the unsolvable pain of others, more precious than the chance to give answers. But sharing another’s suffering is much more art than science, an art we’re rarely taught. Here’s what my journey has taught me about caring for hurting friends:

Just show up. Sit in silence if necessary.

A friend did this perfectly for me after the loss of a loved one. Meghan found me in a bathroom stall, sick and shaking with grief. She slid a cup of water under the door and waited quietly until I emerged. She joined me in brokenness on the bathroom floor, held me as I sobbed. You don’t have to say anything, she told me. She showed up and sat in uncomfortable silence. Her presence was the greatest gift I received in that season of grief.

I don’t know what to say is the perfect thing to say.

We want to give well-shaped words of comfort, and sometimes it’s easier to stay quiet when we can’t find them. But avoiding painful subjects can make others feel like emotional lepers, wondering if they’re too broken for compassion. If words fail, just say that. Add a genuine but I care and I’m so sorry, and your hurting friend will feel your support.

I don’t know what to say is the perfect thing to say. Click To Tweet

Give grace to hurting friends.

Grief and pain sap us of emotional energy. Pressure and expectations to respond to every kind text or say yes to each offer for a coffee date are exhausting to someone with depleted resources. If your friend doesn’t respond, recognize that they may not have the energy. When I send a text, I’ve learned to include don’t feel like you have to respond if you don’t want to. I just want you to know I care.

Normalize pain.

In the church, there’s this pressure to give quick assurances of God’s sovereignty. But we really just need to know our hurt is normal. That sounds scary. I would be upset, too. I can only imagine how your heart is breaking. I’m so sorry you have to endure this pain. It’s more helpful to make people feel heard and loved than to cover our own uncertainty with cheap comments about “God’s will.”

Be there for the long haul.

Long after the initial shock of a friend’s pain has worn off for us, their insides are being reshaped by the experience. Slow down. It’s still a big deal. Practically, this looks like checking in after others have moved on. Remember important dates. Notice month, year, five-year anniversaries of significant losses. Put them in your phone if you have to

Be practical: ask permission and keep commitments.

Is it okay if I check in or would you prefer some space for a while? Can I bring dinner this week? If they say it’s okay to check in, do it when you said you would. If you promised to bring a meal on Tuesday at 7, show up on time and don’t plan on staying long unless they ask you to. Here are some very practical ways to show up for hurting friends.

Know your limits and be an advocate.

Deep compassion prompts a deep desire to help, but we also need healthy boundaries so we don’t drain ourselves dry. We’re not counselors, doctors, or financial planners, so we can free ourselves to engage our role as friends, not fixers. If your loved one needs a well-trained, compassionate professional, normalize the need for help. Be an advocate; don’t put pressure on yourself to do more than is healthy.

A meaningful life walks alongside others in the dirt and ugly of our world. Click To Tweet

A meaningful life walks alongside others in the dirt and ugly of our world. It doesn’t run from broken, but counts it a privilege to share. It’s not easy, but it’s a sacred honor to share burdens with one another. And our lives are richer for it.

How do you help hurting friends? How have others entered into your hurt? As always, I’d love to hear in the comments.

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About Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I'm a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I've got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That's the story I've lived, and the one I want for you. Let's be friends!

4 Replies

  1. Just when I thought I had already read my favorite post of yours, you go and post a new, more-favorite post! GOOD GRIEF. This makes me want to cry. It’s so beautiful and practical…I like how you MASTERED that.

    I have been one of those friends on your list in this season, and you have been an encouragement, by simply letting me vent and not trying to fix it. So thank you.

    I’m a fixer too. A strategizer. A let’s-make-a-game-plan-and-what’s-next guy. So I know how tough it is to not DO something. But by BEING my friend, you’ve done all I needed.

    You rock, Sarah Simmons.

    When on EARTH can we move NashVegas a little closer to Bham?

    1. Jocelyn Simmons

      Lovely advise, your people are blessed to have such a wise friend.

    2. Needed this today! And yes, you and Lindsey were definitely on my mind when I wrote this. You guys are amazing!

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