Hard times are, well, hard. Watching someone live through a difficult circumstance, whether it be a death in the family, a dismal diagnosis, a job loss, or a myriad of other possibilities, is often heartbreaking and at times awkward. Awkward in that we so badly want to help in some way or say the right words that will offer comfort, but we discover that we have no idea what to say or how to say it, and we certainly don’t want to say the wrong thing and have it bring more hurt into an already delicate situation.
I’ve had a little experience with difficult times in the past as have many of you, and there are some loose do’s and don’ts that I’m going to share in this post. Anyone who is the midst of a treacherous journey this side of eternity will attest that there certainly isn’t a score board for appropriateness, but there are ways of saying or doing something that are more effective and life giving than other ways. This post is meant to help – not hurt or condemn so take it for what it’s worth.
First, you don’t have to say anything – really. You can even say, “I have no idea what to say” or “There are no words.” We’re good with that. There’s no shame in either of these heartfelt expressions. Honestly, we have no idea what to say either. It’s bad. We all know that. We often feel like we’re living completely naked in front of the world through our deep pain – which is all too obvious. It is what it is. We’re grappling with the words just like you are. Hugs are good. Real, tight, sincere, break your neck type of hugs.
“I’ll be praying for you.” I’ve struggled with this one – not always but sometimes. In 2010, in the midst of complete chaos with a husband diagnosed with brain cancer and four young children, and I was just trying to not drown or completely lose my mind or end up in the looney bin, and I’d hear “I’ll be praying for you,” randomly thrown into the midst of the madness, almost flippantly. These words often felt like they were said to relieve an awkwardness on behalf of the speaker who had no idea what to say. Maybe these people sincerely went home and prayed, but it often seemed forced, guilt induced, and more for the benefit of the one speaking than for my benefit. However, if these words were attached to a tangible way of helping – they spoke Jesus much clearer (and louder) into my situation.
Someone called me once, a person I had never had a conversation with before, out of the blue, to tell me that God told them to call and pray with me. My husband was in hospice, I had an eleven month old baby, a three year old, a handicapped five year old and a seven year old. My life was in complete shambles, and this person kept me on the phone praying for over an hour – through the baby’s cries, Mabel’s babbling, Luke’s screams, and my hisses for them all to settle down. I have no idea what was said except that it was loud, sounded spirit filled, and totally for his or her benefit – not mine. Moral of the story, there is a time and a place. Really evaluate the situation, and if your deeds would speak a louder Jesus than a long, elaborate prayer, go with deeds or pray in private. Those prayers are just as effective.
Along those same lines, some of us are not necessarily comfortable with people running up to us in Walmart, boldly laying hands on top of our heads, and loudly praying for the whole store to witness. I would caution not to ever do this, and instead, realize that most people will find this situation highly uncomfortable. Not to mention, if these people are shopping at all during a difficult season of life, it’s probably a treat, and undoubtedly their time is limited before they need to return to their current reality.
“All things happen for a reason”, or “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” Not appropriate to say in the midst of a difficult situation. We are told that in this world we will have trouble – not only told that, but it’s a promise to believers. We do not live for this world, but we are called to obedience in whatever he may ask of us, we are to obediently walk through it in faithfulness, and God may give us more than we think we can bear, but we are promised that he will bear it with us.
Cards with words are nice. Cards with words and money are helpful. I realize not everyone can give but families are strapped during difficult times – especially when the primary breadwinner is involved. I still have every card given to me during Jason’s illness and my pregnancy with Luke. In those chaotic moments, the words meant very little, but now, as I go back and reread them, they are precious memories of how much we were cared for and loved during those years of hardship.
“How can I help you?” You might get an answer or you might get “We don’t need anything, but thank you.” This is a lie. Press the issue a bit and offer tangible suggestions. I would usually start with the “We don’t need help….” then as suggestions were thrown out, I would jump on one or two of them.
We ate TONS of casseroles. Initially the casseroles were great, and then we were on month 7, 8, 9, and we got to the point where tatter tot casserole lost its appeal pretty quickly. One specific meal has always stood out in my mind. I couldn’t even tell you who brought it but is was chicken fajitas with all the trimmings. She probably had 10 containers, beautifully filled with homemade salsa, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, warm tortillas, and chicken. I’m sure it was a ton of work, but it was so appreciated!
Here are some other unique ways that we were helped during out time of need.
Gift certificate to order pizza
Gift certificate to order Schwans meals.
A neighborhood church came over to do a yard clean up/fix my house/problems day.
The neighborhood guys took turns mowing my lawn
Someone brought my minivan into the shop for a full detail
A group of ladies cleaned my house every week and bought me a new vacuum cleaner.
Another group of ladies picked up my laundry on a weekly basis.
People who were noticeably nervous about Lucas would take him for a complete day to the park, the zoo, wherever - just to give me a break.
A church congregation bought my kids Christmas one year, the tree was overflowing with gifts for four children who had just lost their dad.
My aunt purchased stepping stone kits for each of the kids so that they could make handprints with their dad before he passed away.
A dear friend sat with Jason for hours while he dictated letters for me and the kids to receive after his passing.
Numerous people brought Jason to and from work and also to his doctor’s appointments.
A church stopped by with a van load of groceries.
Someone offered to take Caleb clothes shopping for the new school year.
Someone bought all of my children new shoes.
A woman came over and volunteered her time to give us all haircuts.
A woman weeded and picked the produce out of my garden.
This same woman preserved the produce from the garden so that it wouldn’t go to waste.
Someone sent an anonymous gift certificate for a spa day (for me)
Another person bought me a massage.
A friend brought over a bottle of wine and offered to just sit with me, no strings attached.
A friend’s dad built a gate to our family room so that Lucas would be confined and I would be able to get some things done around the house without constantly monitoring him.
Our neighborhood built a fence around my yard so that my kids would be kept safe from oncoming traffic and again, for my peace of mind.
I had wonderful angels surrounding and lifting me up during a very difficult time, and I’m sure there were a million other ways people found to help that I’m not remembering. I hope this list doesn’t condemn but is instead helpful. Whatever you do, do something is the best advice I can offer.
Just keep livin!