Helping Friends When Life Sucks – Empathize, Don’t Minimize

file0001465805005Recently I suggested that one helpful response to life’s difficult situations is gaining a larger perspective. When problems come, asking yourself, “How important is this in the grand scheme of life?” can be very helpful. Recognizing that your life, and its meaning and value, is much bigger than your circumstances is liberating. Problems come and problems go, but God remains and you remain. Remembering that, and being grateful for your blessings, goes a long way. You can worry less and enjoy life even in the face of difficulty.

This is good news, but there are some issues in its application. Personally, I know this idea of reframing works from my own experience. I’ve proven it to myself over and over, yet I still often resist doing it. Perhaps I am unwilling to surrender the outcome of the particular issue to God. I want what I want; it must come out my way; I “can’t bear” anything different. Or maybe I want to continue to be the victim of circumstances or others’ ill intent, feeling aggrieved at the “injustice” of it all. Either way, I may choose to stay stuck in woe-is-me-ism. Usually, my close friends can help me snap out of it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If you’re like me, you want to help your friends and loved ones through their troubles. But regardless of the truth of the matter, despite your familiarity with the concepts, and even with great love – you cannot just tell someone else that his problem is small, and that he should think bigger, be more grateful or just “snap out of it.” People’s big problems are their big problems and the first thing to do is understand that they are big to them.

A medical joke goes,
Q: “What is minor surgery?”
A: “Minor surgery is surgery on you.”
And, going unsaid is, any operation on me is major surgery. There’s a lot of truth in that joke. Not about surgery, but about our attitudes towards ourselves and others. Realize that, and try not to adopt that perspective with those close to you. Empathize, don’t minimize.

Only after empathizing, really feeling the gravity of the situation, can you decide how to help your friends. Maybe you should help them reevaluate their perspective, maybe not. It depends. Their pain may be overwhelming, their loss very great. Healing and acquiring new views of the matter will take time. You may see the eventual good outcome, but they’re not going to get there right now. You might not be the right person to help guide them anyway. Perhaps it’s a time to just be with them. You don’t have to have their answers. In humility, let the Holy Spirit guide your response.

Honestly. I’m still learning this myself. I have a heart to help, and most individuals trying to be well do need new perspectives, to think differently, and to take hard actions. But I also have too much of a tendency to jump right in and tell others what they should think, how they should feel, and what they should do. If I do that in this blog, be patient with me. I’m a work in progress, as are we all.