Articles comfort_hurting_friend

Published on December 19th, 2014 | by Joanna Ueland

When You Have No Words: How To Comfort A Hurting Friend





My ear was numb from the phone pressed tightly against my ear as I heard the words spill out: “It’s awful, Jo, they don’t think he’ll make it. If a miracle doesn’t happen, he won’t make it.”

What do you say to a friend who is probably going to say goodbye to her 16-year-old brother in a matter of days?

What do you say to a friend holding your hand, shaking with such deep pain it cannot be uttered?

What do you say to a friend who is aching because those who were supposed to protect and support her aren’t doing so?

What do you say to a friend who has tried so hard and seemingly everything in his life is going wrong?

What do you say when you look into the eyes of a teenager lying in a hospital bed trying to fight the cancer overtaking her body?

What do you say? WHAT?!

Pain isn’t easy, it isn’t clear. It’s complicated, it’s messy, and it gnaws at you viciously.

Most people feel very unsure of how to respond when they know someone in pain or who is grieving. They pull away because they don’t know what to say and they’re afraid they will say the wrong thing. Sometimes they just don’t want to deal with the uncomfortable reality of pain that seems to have permeated every inch of our fallen world!

Remember that it is perfectly okay to grieve! People often think when they’re talking to someone who is experience pain or grief they need to somehow be able to ‘fix’ it. God never condemned or spoke negatively of people grieving. Jesus himself wept over the death of Lazarus. He never condemned Job for mourning and grieving greatly over his great loss!

Sometimes you cannot say anything, you don’t have the right words to encourage or comfort. In those times, just be there with your hurting friends, show them you care and please, I beg of you, do not be scared of their pain! Even if you can’t do anything but point them back to Jesus.

We may have no strength to give, but we can point them to the one that says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) and “I will strengthen thee; yeah, I will help thee; yea I will uphold thee” (Isaiah 41:10)

When they feel alone, point them to the one who promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5) When you can’t fathom what they’re going through, point them to the one who “hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:3), the one who must “suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation” (Luke 17:25), the one who said “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42), the one who “being in agony prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

When their burden is too heavy, point them to the one who says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Point them to the one whose “faithfulness reaches unto the clouds” (Psalms 36:5).


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Photo courtesy of Kathryn and Flickr Creative Commons.












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About the Author

is nineteen-years-old and the youngest of 10 children! She lives with her family in Southern Missouri. She does not claim to be a writer but loves to write about anything she feels passionate about. Her life can be summarized by the two things she loves most: Jesus and people!



  • Kate

    Great job Joanna! This is a perfect timing for right now. My neighbor will be going through her first Christmas without her dad this year, and although she tries to cover it up and act like it doesn’t bug her, I can tell she is so sad, she doesn’t know what to say or do. So thank you. :-)

    • Ruthie C

      Aw, that’s so sad. I’ll pray for her family.

      • Kate

        Thanks, I am sure she will appreciate it. (And I do too.) :-)

  • Lauren

    Thank you, Joanna. Thank you for addressing a topic that is hard to deal with – and harder to understand. Grief has a mind of its own. And to make it even more complicated, we humans grieve not just people, but lost opportunities, friendships, and change. Thank you!
    In Christ,
    Lauren

  • Cassie

    Wonderful post, Joanna. I struggled deeply with second-hand grief last year, as my dear friends went through their first Christmas without their mum. I wanted to so badly to do something, say something to comfort them, but as you say, it is so hard to know WHAT. But I found, just letting you know you’re there and care can help loads. God uses fumbling words and uncertain actions. And you’re right – backing away and being afraid of pain isn’t the way to go, however easy it is. My grandparents went to an art show of a friend who’d lost a leg to cancer. The work that hit them most was one that expressed how so many people couldn’t deal with the pain or stress, and so ‘hopped off’ her ‘life bus’ for a while. It really sums up what kind of a friend I want to be to those in pain – one who sticks, who cares, who grieves with them.
    Thanks again for this post.

    • Joanna

      You’re welcome! “God uses fumbling words and uncertain actions” Wow, so true and so well said Cassie!

  • Ruthie

    Your timing is clearly God-sent. Today is the anniversary of the death of one of my family members.
    I can say that just being there is a comfort to most grievers. All the Bible verses are vital, but just sitting with that person, listening to them talk, or even just sitting in silence can help a lot. However, every person is different. Sometimes the only thing you can do is pray. That really aggravates people like me who want to do something, but some people just need space for a time. But that doesn’t mean a friend should move out of their life completely.
    To sum up the whole thing, as a friend, you’ll just have to wing it. Grief is very complicated and each person is as well. Try to think of what comforts your friend.

    • Joanna

      Sorry to hear about your loss!
      I agree, just being there for someone grieving is huge!

  • This post is SO relevant to my life right now. A very close friend of mine is going through an extremely hard time in her life and it is obvious that it is not going to let up any time soon. I’ve been needing to hear this because I did keep trying to “fix it” for her. But I am not her savior or her guardian, thats God’s job and now I can see that grieving is okay. Thank you!

    • Joanna

      I’ll be praying that God would give you wisdom with your friend and show you the best way you can be there for her!

    • mimeforJESUS

      I’ll be praying for you too, Sadie!

      • It’s really nice to know that there is somewhere that I can post a tidbit about a friend of mine’s life and, even though you don’t know anything about me, her or what the situation is, people care and want to pray. Its amazing! God works through crazy ways :) I’m truly grateful!

        • mimeforJESUS

          Happy to help :) Part of being in God’s family – you’ve got brothers and sisters everywhere who’ll do whatever they can for you.

    • Riley H.

      I’m praying!! I’m going through a really similar situation with my friend right now. It’s hard because you hurt so much right along with them. Sometimes you just can’t do anything but trust God through the pain…and pray.

      Bought with a Price,
      -Riley

  • Thank you for this, Joanna (great name, by the way!). When I have gone through some hard trials in my life over the years, the best things that others did for me was pray for me and point me to Christ. (Side note: often times I wished for silence and just their presence, because honestly, many times they did not know what it was like. But Jesus does and what a gift that is!) And be there, physically if possible, even if just to let me cry on their shoulder. Truly the best thing of all was when others pointed me to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. That is what I needed the most.

    • Ruthie C

      Yup, silence and just their presence, plus lots of Jesus. Well written.

    • Joanna

      I’d have to agree it’s a great name! 😉
      I so agree, pointing to Jesus is the best thing especially in the depth of grief when you have to cling to something bigger than all the pain that’s in the moment to be able to survive.

  • Ruthie C

    I had a post written out, but then I accidentally deleted it. :( Grr. Ok, take #2:
    This is such a great post. A couple of years ago my close grandpa was diagnosed with a serious pancreatic cancer. The doctors gave him about 6 months to live. He died within 6 weeks. It was a very changing, heartbreaking experience for me. One of my friends in particular (who also knew my grandpa well) was extremely helpful throughout the entire process. She talked when she needed to, but perhaps the best thing she did was just sit in silence with me. Even though she wasn’t saying anything with words, I knew that she loved me and was available.
    My friend probably wasn’t super confident on the inside, knowing exactly what to do at every moment. But all I remember was her doing all the right things. For friends of a griever, I would recommend just being available. Maybe even say it out loud: I love you, I’m praying for you, and I’m here however and whenever you need me. Follow their lead; if they start to talk or seem like they really want to, talk. If they don’t want to talk, perhaps just sitting in silence is the best thing. Or just let them be alone for a little while. Every situation is different. As Ruthie said, just wing it!

  • Steelers Fan

    Another thing that you could say to encourage someone suffering is not only that God is with you, but he will restore you too. I love how Peter puts it:

    And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10, NIV)

    That always puts a smile on my face to know that :-)

    • Wow Steelers Fan,
      I can see why that would make you smile. =D

  • Wow. (Exhales loudly)
    Joanna,
    thank you for writing this. It’s like you’re shining a light on one of the dark lies of Satan: Don’t talk to that person. They don’t want you’re help. Don’t annoy them!
    In reality, people normally want someone to help. We’re just afraid to ask. Once again, thank you for this article.
    – Trent

    • Sam S.

      So true.

    • Madeleine Grace

      Amen!!

  • alana

    Yep, I agree. Just being there, ready with a hug, and pointing them to the One who is always there and knows them better than you.

  • Allie Blue

    Wow, profound article! Sometimes just being there for friends is the best and only thing that you can do- apart from leading them back to Christ, of course- and it’s something that they will genuenly appreciate. Thanks for this post

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  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • SarahJanssens

    I’m twenty-years-old, and the oldest of 10 kids. But really, I’m the oldest of 11. You see last year, on December 22, my baby sister was stillborn at 40weeks 2days. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve been through by far. But all that you said above is so true. Those people that are hurting, are only going to be healed by God. To point them to Him is the most important and valuable thing that one can do. God is good! “For my grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness..” Thanks for posting this. Very well said!

    • mimeforJesus

      I lost a sibling like that too.

  • jordyteapot

    Joanna,

    thank you sooo much for posting this (isn’t it amazing how God can use things
    like this; so many people have commented about how timely this post of yours proved to be in their lives!). I also had been wondering how on earth to comfort a
    friend of mine. Her grandfather had died; a couple of days before Christmas,
    and his funeral was on the twenty sixth!! I felt like I was stumbling through
    every word I said to her and I was so scared of offending her and her family.
    We brought them some food and a card to help them and show them we cared, but I fretted the whole time wondering if they would be offended by that. End of the story: why do I worry over such little things? When will I learn to just trust
    God with the results? All my worrying over that was in vain, and my friend and
    her family responded better to this than I ever could have imagined.

    Also, why did I not think to consider how I had felt during my
    last trial? Recalling it now, the thing that I really sought after in that time
    was hugs (personal preference), maybe because that’s part of my love language.
    If you know the system of the love languages (how different people show and
    receive messages of appreciation the best), maybe that might help when
    comforting a friend?? I don’t know, I’m just writing my thoughts here. Anyway,
    thank you again Joanna for sharing!

    • mimeforJesus

      Having been through stuff, would you have appreciated it if a not-so-close friend had tried to comfort you, or would you have preferred your closer friends?

      • jordyteapot

        I probably would have prefered to be comforted by a closer friend, but if someone not so close made an effort to comfort me, I would have appreciated that so much too, and that would probably serve to bring us closer than before… if you know what I mean.

        • mimeforJesus

          Thanks Jordyteapot, I wondered if I would be appreciated if I tried to help a couple of friends who I know are having trouble right now, but I’m not close to them. Now I know!

          • jordyteapot

            Well, as I said, I’m sure that this sort of comfort from any friend no matter how close would be very much appreciated. I would say go ahead :) Even if it’s only with your presence.

  • Excellent article. Like so many other things, this topic has all but become taboo in our culture and we need to be reminded that Christians should not be afraid to confront it. Thank you for righting, Joanna.

  • I’ve been struggling with a similar situation. Wow. You know it is hard. Thanks for speaking out about one of the dark lies Satan. ( as Trent Blake said)

  • Hannah Kittle

    Joanna, you did a lovely job on this article and I just wanted to say how much it blessed me. I just want to re-echo the things that you said. Form personal experience I know that when people are grieving it’s all too easy to want to help them, but not know how to. Sometimes the best thing you can do it just to go to them in person and hug them and let the action speak for itself. It’s so encouraging to receive Bible verses and have the reminder that God is there even when it seems like He may not be. To those who offer the encourage, just knowing that you’re standing by them is often the best way to comfort them. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t respond to you. Sometimes it’s hard to express gratitude with words during hard times. Hope that helps. God bless you Joanna!

  • Madeleine Grace

    Joanna that was such a profound story!! one that everyone needs to hear. we need to be their for those who are suffering most of us are afraid to do that but God calls us to it and must be their. so many people aren’t and sometimes those going through such things are left alone because their friends don’t know what to say or how to cope with it all. but we need to be their for our brethren because if we’re not then who will!?!?!?!
    God Bless,
    ~Madeleine

  • I struggle with this same thing. Many times I feel that my “talking to that person” is (like this comment), stupid worthless advice that will be taken as off-topic and like I didn’t even know what was going on at all.

    • Eva H.

      Wow, I can relate

  • Gabrielle

    Thank you for this great reminder, Joanna. A friend of mine is going through a tough time with her high school swim team, and I know I felt pretty helpless as she cried her eyes out while all I could do is smile sympathetically and pass the box of tissues. Even after reassuring her that God was with her and he’d never leave her side, I felt that I should have been able to give some great piece of advice.

    However, I realized that sometimes you don’t even have to do anything to comfort them. Sometimes all they need is someone to listen attentively while they rant and talk. When people talk, it gets the pressure out of their mind, and they can think clearer and sort out the situation. God will use a listening ear and a silent prayer as well as a piece of wisdom to work his miracles.

  • Jeff Stormer

    A post well worth the read.

    Sometimes (most times?) saying nothing is a great thing “to do.” That includes scriptural encouragements…as it is written: there is a time for every season…I confess I have been guilty of intending encouragement and delivering death by not being sensitive to what was actually needed right at that moment. Been on the receiving end of those good intentions, too.

    Just being with that person…holding their hand, maybe a hug (as appropriate).
    Ask one of their primary care givers what would be permissible in terms of *demonstrating* your care and concern (especially if you don’t know the person in pain well enough personally to just jump in): laundry? Bring in a meal on a tray?

    There will (eventually) come a time for talking. We tend to miss the most powerful opportunities for ministry by trying to cover our own awkwardness and uncertainties. (Or maybe it’s just me…)

    I am blessed to see so many younger believers not only asking/thinking about such tough issues, but responding with Godly wisdom! It’s not always about having the “right answers” but rather knowing Who does.

  • Elisabeth

    Great article Joanna! My Dad passed away this year and I’ve really appreciated people who will just be there without saying anything or asking how I’m doing. There is a time and place for talking, but sometimes in the moment it’s more helpful to just let the person know you love them by being nearby. Thanks for sharing.

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