Everyone reading this has or will go through many different challenges that grip you to the core. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) He wasn’t prophesying doom over us, but letting us know in sober awareness that we will be hit with various circumstances that will seek to overwhelm us and erode our faith.
This past year brought deep trials to my family that challenged every place in our hearts. It included major ministry changes, relational difficulties, financial hardships and other pressures that sought to drain our energy. In just one year, we ended a season of pastoring, starting a new ministry focus, had our van totaled, condo flooded and had to quickly get acquainted with hotel living for 8+ months. This all happening while a complicated cleanup process ensued. Even as I write this, the details are still being worked out to finish all that is needed so we can get back home.
At times our emotional wits were stretched to the edge. Pioneering new ministry avenues and juggling major changes, while being consistent to invest in our marriage and live faithfully to nurture our children through this, we often ended the day collapsing in exhaustion. Just living in a hotel with two very energetic children is challenging enough. Our days were filled with endless errands, insurance phone calls and genuine attempts to stay in touch with our daily responsibilities.
Although we love the direction God has taken us and do not regret any of the decisions we have made to pursue our call and passion, that doesn’t mean that the journey is without intense seasons of pain, trauma and heartache.
Relationships During Crisis
In times of crisis, your faith is critical and the trial is an invitation to go higher in your walk with God. Yet at the same time, healthy relationships are where you process out that upgraded level of faith. Those healthy interactions can bring a presence of nurture and add virtue to your faith.
Key relationships become deep binds that carry you into new avenues with great power. What you gain in those hard times can propel you into the next season of life with great maturity. For example, going through this trying season of our life has made me love my wife Melissa more than ever before. I have never felt more solid in our respect, love and honor that we genuinely have for each other. Walking through this trial upgraded our relationship.
Yet there are also relationships that get downgraded and often lost through times of crisis. It is true when they say hard times can make or break a relationship. I don’t have any person in mind. All I know is that this past year has shifted our relational world quickly. Some of this is simply part of the process, but there are components of it that I wish could be healthier.
Studies have shown that when people go through trying times, some of their friendships can fall apart. The very nature of the trauma or sudden change often brings out the shallowness or dysfunctional foundation that is present.
The biggest challenge I have had to face relationally is when people make my difficult situation more about themselves then about the fact that we have been hit with a deluge of problems. We literally moved our from pastoring, got our van totaled and had our condo flooded within weeks of each other. My head and heart were spinning I didn’t know which way was left or right.
Its at these times when you need the patience and support of relationships the most. Many great people step up to the plate and become bound to you like never before. Yet it also reveals how shallow some relationships are, who make it more about you not being as available anymore. They just don’t know how to recognize the season someone else is in.
Poor Friendship Skills
I’ve done it in the past. I got upset about the quality of a relationship and did not make room for understanding what the other person was going through. In fact, years ago I was deeply hurt over a great friend who had blown me off for a while. I was hurt and had to process the pain. After some failed attempts to communicate, I finally dug deeper to find out what’s going on. Come to find out the person had been going through a deep trial.
I learned in that moment when friends of those in trials make it about themselves, they are being really crappy friends. I’ve been on both sides and I have learned that trials can actually bring the relationship to where it needs to be. Some relationships fall off to the wayside. They probably need to. Don’t hold a grudge about it, because its probably for the better. Other connections become galvanized so that who you are can be united for greater impact.
It seems that friends and loved ones can often be the goofiest when we are going through something difficult. They often don’t know what to do, usually because they haven’t processed their own pain. Most are really uncomfortable seeing you in pain and they transpose that onto you.
As part of my life journey and what I do in working with people, I like to equip others to be helpful and nurturing sources for those going through deep challenges and pain.
What is Not Needed:
Having pity on someone is not the same as compassion. Pity just makes us feel bad with no resolve. Compassion moves us into action, to do something or simply be someone that is part of the healing process.
I don’t need pity. I spent 5 years getting free from self-pity, so when I detect someone giving me pity I want to run out the room. Its already hard enough that I am going through something. Pity just wants to keeps me in the junk and focus on negative things. If you have pity, you may create an emotional bond, but you won’t help someone overcome. I need someone with faith who knows how to love.
2. A Quick Answer
You also don’t need a quick pat on the back with a fast answer. I know people mean well. When they come up to you and say, “How are you doing?” and you tell them whats really going on, they were not ready for your answer. So we have to give people slack.
But jumping to give a quick Scripture or cliche saying is sometimes the worst thing to do. It can quickly reveal a lack of compassion or emotional heart connection. I have had some of the dumbest responses given to me in the most vulnerable moments. All in the name of “giving help.” This is why people can often isolate during trials…the community doesn’t know how to be helpful and redemptive.
3. Quick Advice
Job’s friends did this. They responded to his excruciating trial by breaking down the whole situation and giving him advice—most of which God flushed down the toilet. You may have some great advice or insight to offer, but the wrong timing that nullify the power of that word.
4. More Pasta Dishes
Thank God this did not happen to me, but friends I know got inundated with pasta dishes during intense seasons of hardship. The last thing families need in a rough time is dump truck of carbs to add weight and bloat to their already challenging emotional time. Give a grocery card or find out their favorite dish instead.
What is Needed:
1. A Listening Ear
Sometimes the absolute best thing to say is nothing, but an engaged ear that is listening and taking in what the other person is going through. I’m not talking about a passive posture of saying nothing, as that can be excruciating to witness. But a posture that shows you are listening and connecting. Sometimes a cup off coffee to talk or just a breather of relational connection can do more than trying to give a word or some kind of advice.
2. Patient Space
I have had to learn to do this and I have been in times where I needed this. Quite often, people need understanding. They’re going through something new they have no references for and need time to process it out.
3. An Engaged Heart
Everyone’s different, but finding ways to demonstrate your heart’s engagement can be so powerful. Maybe you can do something that is needed. When my condo got flooded, I had hundreds of items that were destroyed and drenched. I was overwhelmed with what was damaged and lost. My mom arrived and pull up her sleeves to help me wade through it all and clean it. I was brought to tears, cause I realized, that is what I needed. But if she asked me, “What do you need” I wouldn’t have known what to say.
Sending a bowl of pasta or saying “Let me know what I can do” may be convenient for you to say, but that may not be helpful to them. Sometimes the best thing to do is to ask God how you can love from the heart.
4. A Loyal Presence
Sometimes people going through hard times can feel alone and abandoned. Sometimes its simply helpful to just check up and see how people are doing. Show you haven’t forgotten.
This is really important when people lose loved ones. When the funeral is going on, there are crowds, but when its all over, others often forget and move on. Meanwhile the person is still grieving. It’s good to check up and be mindful.
6. A Prayerful Heart
I make it my aim to never tell anyone, “I am praying for you” unless I actually do it. To make sure I do not forget, when I send an email or text saying, “I will pray,” I stop and do it right there. I never want the action of prayer to be something that has little power or depth of meaning.
7. Simple Acts
Sometimes the simplest act can be so helpful. When Melissa and I went through the miscarriage of a pregnancy years ago, one friend took me out just to hang. No advice, no lecture. Just time to talk and process connection.
Recently, I’ve had people randomly send me grocery cards or restaurant cards. I had cash or checks sent that were just what we needed. You will forever be remembered, because those gifts were often the very thing we needed to get through a complicated week of juggling meals and schedules in a small efficiency hotel kitchenette.
Sometimes the simplest of gestures can go a long way to add to the faith of those who are being deeply pressed by circumstances. The more we learn to engage relationship in trying times with greater wisdom, we can become a more powerful body of people to impact our world.