Recently, I have watched one of my closest friends struggle to hold on to her faith. As a result of family conflicts, school stress, medical problems and more, she says she has lost the ability to feel God’s joy and peace. I hear her hurting and I’ve seen her cry, but what can I do?
I have learned that the most important thing to do before I ever approach my friend is to pray. When I pray, I ask God to soften my heart towards her, to help me feel her pain and empathize with her. I ask Him to help me set aside my cares and to prepare my heart to listen to her well.
When I pray I also ask for God’s wisdom so that I can respond well to my friend, but, more importantly, I ask God to speak through me. Ultimately, any love, encouragement or guidance that I can offer to my friend stems from the spring of God’s Spirit living inside me. As I seek to love my friend I am not taking God’s resources and using them of my own accord, but I am humbly submitting to God’s will as I give myself to the service of my friend’s needs.
Besides praying, the most important thing I can do for my friend is simply to listen. Oftentimes, people don’t really want any advice; they simply want to be understood. Listening is also crucial for my ability to respond well to my friend’s needs. If I don’t listen well enough to understand her, how can I help her?
Listening well can look differently in various situations. Sometimes, listening means shutting your mouth and letting the other person verbally explode as all of the thoughts, words and feelings they’ve been bottling up come flooding out. Other times, listening looks like being ready to ask the right questions to help someone along as they process their emotions. Listening can even look like complete silence. Sometimes, just being physically present with another person is enough to make them feel like you are listening and empathizing with their situation. Depending on how well you know the person, it may take a little trial and error before you figure out what listening posture they respond to best.
Deciding what to say can be hard depending on the situation. With my friend who is feeling extremely soul-tired and worn down, the most important thing I can do is remind her of how constant God is. I’ve learned from my own experience that one of the most powerful truths to cling to during times of darkness is the truth that, despite how lost we may feel, we can never lose God and He most certainly never loses us.
When people say things like, “I just don’t feel God anymore,” it is probably a sign that reciting Bible verses and spiritual statistics isn’t going to work. Instead, remind them that God called them for a purpose, that He chose them, wants them and that He is not subject to change in the same way their emotions are.
- Pray again
After taking the time to listen to any new thoughts or feelings that they may have to share, it is so important to pray again. Whether you pray with the person, over the person, by yourself, or in all of these ways, devote what has just happened to God. Thank Him for the opportunities He gives us to share in each other’s burdens and ask Him to bless what has just happened, all that has been said and shared. Pray that the Spirit within your friend would be renewed and that they would once again be able to feel the presence of God within them. Pray for emotional healing, pray for wisdom and guidance if decisions must be made, pray for patience…just pray. Lift up your voice to God with peace and confidence knowing that he hears.
- Say and live ‘Amen’
The Heidelberg Catechism defines Amen like this:
“What does that little word ‘Amen’ express?
This shall truly and surely be!
It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
Encourage your friend that, as the Catechism says, the power of prayer lies more in the reality that God hears us than in our ability to articulate ourselves well or say the right things. Rather than waiting for your emotions to change, maybe deciding to have confidence in God’s truth despite your emotions will generate the emotional change you’re waiting for.
Thank you, Father, that you bend down to hear us. Thank you that you call us into community with one another and do not ask us to bear our burdens alone. As we interact with people around us who are hurting, help us to listen well and to love them well. Use us, Lord, to draw your people back to faith in You.