Things a year ago looked very different than they did now. My husband Steve had just had back surgery on July 20. During this three-week recovery, I found myself as chief caregiver and in charge of everything. Was I overwhelmed? You bet. Discouraged? Oh, yeah.
But I learned a lot. About myself. About others. I learned, from being on the receiving end, five ways in which I could encourage others as they go through hard times.
1. Avoid platitudes.
Hard times happen to everyone and are myriad. A cancer diagnosis. Surgery. A divorce. Losing a parent or a child. Unemployment. The list goes on and on. Many times, people don’t know what to say, so they’ll grasp at anything. Here’s a few.
“It’s going to be okay.”
“Praying for you.”
“This didn’t surprise God.”
Maybe it will be okay. We always appreciate prayer. And yes, as a Jesus follower, I do believe I serve a sovereign God.
But in the middle of a crisis, that’s not what we need to hear.
Instead, a simple “I’m sorry” can suffice. Or even a hug. Touch can encourage at times in ways that words can’t.
2. Avoid ghosting.
Ghosting simply means disappearing. When a person is in crisis, people can ghost them for two reasons. Either they freeze and don’t know how to react, so they disappear, or they find themselves so busy that they don’t take time to acknowledge the person’s difficulties.
Both hurt and can destroy friendships.
When a person is in crisis, at least acknowledge it. Telling someone in crisis that we care via text or e-mail is great. Better yet, buy a card and take the time to write in it before mailing it.
When my cousin suffered from metastatic breast cancer, I’d mail her a funny card on a regular basis until her death four years ago. She loved getting them and said they made her laugh.
3. Be present.
One thing I appreciated during Steve’s recuperation was having someone come by. It broke up the monotony, and it gave both of us a link to the outside world. As we chatted, we were their only focus. I truly appreciated that.
Being an encourager means practicing active listening. I know it’s hard, and it takes energy and focus.
When visiting, be it over a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop or sharing coffee in someone’s home, put the phone on mute and away. And listen more than speak. It goes miles to help someone unburden themselves.
4. Offer respite.
Sometimes, we can also offer relief to a person in crisis. Maybe they simply need to get away for a bit. I yearned for that when I found myself stuck at home for three weeks. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the house to walk our dogs.
Respite can come in many ways. A coffee date at a nearby coffeehouse. A bike ride. A walk. Going to the store together. Be creative. And talk about things other than their situation unless they bring it up. They will most likely be glad for other topics.
5. Offer help.
Sometimes, life can come at us so hard that we need help. And for a person going through a tough situation, that can be the most difficult thing to admit.
I definitely felt this way. As Steve recovered, I pulled the weight of two people, which included caring for a puppy and a young dog. When friends offered to bring a meal by, I jumped at the opportunity. It helped alleviate some of the stress and encouraged me.
Offering help does more than get things done. It encourages people. Ways to help are vast. Cutting the grass. Bringing a meal. Shopping for someone. Even getting the mail. These small acts of service also encourage.
In the year since Steve's surgery, he's recovered completely. Throughout it all, I learned a lot. I also learned that I have the gift of encouragement and will utilize it to the best of my abilities. I may fail sometimes, but I’ll never give up on that.
Question: What are some ways you’ve been encouraged by others or have encouraged someone?