Be Honest, Accept Honesty
If we’re to help bear the burden for a suffering friend, honesty about failures, shortcomings, and expectations is essential. We feel uncomfortable when we don’t have the answers to life’s difficult problems. We want to hide when we feel we have failed. We tend to bury painful disappointments. These natural responses (from the one who is suffering as well as from those who would be encouragers) can break down close relationships at the very time we need them the most.
As encouragers, we need to be honest about our fears, our weaknesses, our strengths. If we haven’t “been there” for a hurting friend, we need to let our friend know why—not as an excuse, but as an apology. We need to resolve the past losses and hurts so that we can encourage our friend in whatever way is possible today and tomorrow.
We need to be honest about the kind of encouragement and support we are able to offer. If you are a terrific problem solver but struggle as a listener, let your friend know how you want to employ your problem-solving gift for his or her benefit. Perhaps you can be a meal or transportation coordinator, or the person who will make sure that the yard maintenance is done.
We need to allow our hurt-ing friend to be honest, too. We need to drop our agendas for those who hurt. We need to be there for them, not to form them.
Allowing a hurting friend to be completely honest is not easy, particularly if our friend is angry. Anger is one of the more difficult—but totally normal—emotions a person encounters when dealing with a life-threatening illness. And a hurting friend’s anger can be intimidating and shocking.
In the heat of anger, your friend may make unsettling pronouncements about life or God or rapidly fire questions at you, demanding answers. If so, count it a privilege that your friend has trusted you enough to expose his or her deepest pain to you. In the face of such honesty, Dave Biebel, author of How to Help a Heartbroken Friend, says we are “as close to representing God as is humanly possible.” So your response is extremely important. Don’t fall into the trap of giving pat answers or attempting to explain away your friend’s suffering. Simply accept your friend’s honesty and respond in honesty. It is okay not to have answers.
Honesty opens the floodgates to a hurting heart. Honesty allows tears and silence. It allows joy and fear. It allows questions—with or without answers. Honesty gives a hurting heart a safe place to be loved, to grow, and to heal.
A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere, before whom I may think out loud.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Faces of Pain
- Physical pain – Cancer patients often endure tremendous physical pain as a result of their illness. In addition, they often must live in the battleground of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy with the accompanying stitches, sunburns, and sick stomachs.
- Emotional pain – The cancer patient and family also face the pain of adjusting to major life changes. Their daily routine is often turned upside down. Family relationships change. In the all-consuming battle against the cancer, emotional needs often go unmet. Emotional neglect can be managed for a time, but cancer is rarely short term.
- Spiritual pain – Sometimes, when the quiet moments come, the noise of nagging questions roars in: Why? Why me? Why now? Only rarely do the heavens open up with answers. While bodies wrestle with physical pain and hearts face emotional pain, the deafening silence of unanswered questions can bring spiritual pain—the most disturbing pain of all.