Just Sit with Me: How to Help a Hurting Friend

Laura Rennie

Scenario one: I’m pouring my heart out to the friend sitting across from me. I voice my deep fears and anxious thoughts. I’m in the middle of sharing particularly painful thought processes and then I see it — her eyebrows wrinkle. Her mouth opens. I sense an interruption coming.

“Yeah, but…” she starts. “Don’t think that way.”

Scenario two: I’m pouring my heart out to the friend sitting across from me. I voice my deep fears and anxious thoughts. I’m in the middle of sharing particularly painful thought processes and then I see it — tears form in her eyes. Her hand reaches out to hold mine. She squeezes it, and admits she doesn’t know what to say.

“I wish there was something I could say to help. My heart aches when I think of all you’re going through.”

I’ve spent the past year and a half living these scenarios. After two stillbirths, I understand what it means to grieve the loss of dreams, the loss of hope and the loss of trust. I grieve my inability to connect with my many pregnant or new-mom friends. I struggle with fear, envy, anger and cynicism. There is a constant weight on my heart. It takes a lot out of me to sit with a friend and put words to those emotions!

Scenario one conversations are… how do I put this nicely… not my favorite. These are friends who have good intentions (which is important to remember when you want to strangle their neck). They say things like, “don’t think that way,” “don’t feel that way,” “don’t focus on that,” “don’t worry about that”… the list goes on. They think they are being helpful. But instead of feeling helped, I feel I’ve been given homework. I feel I now have more burdens than what I came in with. I feel misunderstood, unheard and lonely.

Are you in the midst of a hard season? Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a dream, too. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming for ages, and it seems there is no end in sight. You know what it feels like to have hundreds of thoughts and emotions swirling around. You know that every time you open up and show vulnerability, you’re risking receiving unwarranted opinions or a recitation of cliché Christian sayings.

Most of the time when I pour out my heart, I don’t want advice or opinions. I want my words to be heard. I’m hoping the recipient will listen, instead of internally thinking of what she’s going to say in response. I desire her to show me compassion and empathy, instead of voicing what she thinks I need to do differently.

I’m hoping she’ll just sit with me.

There once was a man who stayed up all night grieving and asking God to remove his burden. He knew his death was near. Do you know this story? Do you know what that man did? He asked his closest friends to sit near him while he prayed.

The Bible tells us our God is a God of all comfort. He can still our troubled minds and soothe our hurting hearts. He loves us and hurts with us. But we don’t always feel God’s nearness, especially when we are grappling with a situation that pains us. It is not wrong for us to hope for those we love to comfort us. Even Jesus desired nearness from friends on earth!

I believe God often shows His comfort through our friends and family members. I felt God’s sorrow when I watched my family members cry in my hospital room. I felt God’s grace when my friends brought me meals. I felt God’s tenderness toward me when my friends held me in their arms. These days I feel seen and cared for by God when friends text me out of the blue to say “God put you on my heart today.”

We are all guilty of doing or saying the wrong thing to our friends who are hurting. Sometimes the situations seem too awkward to approach, so we stay silent and keep our distance. Sometimes we find ourselves babbling on and on because we want to say something, but we haven’t really thought it out. Emotional pain is uncomfortable. We want to offer our friends a quick fix. We want to move on to happier topics.

I’ve spoken with many other women who have also experienced or are experiencing a hard season. One thing rings true: we all appreciate when people acknowledge that words can’t make our pain go away. We appreciate when those we love are willing to set aside the awkwardness of our pain to just sit with us.

Laura's headshotLaura Rennie lives in Maryland with her hilarious husband and constantly shedding dog. She loves reading, writing and playing word games. Her greatest desire is to share Jesus through her words and actions as she learns how to be a better wife, daughter, sister and friend.