Cancer, Grief, Pain, Walking the Path of Encouragement, Words of Endurance

Give Up Your Self

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
JOHN 15:12-13 (NIV)

True friends give of themselves for one another. Giving up one’s self is essential when we seek to encourage a friend who is suffering from cancer or other long-term physical condition. It may mean setting aside my agenda and taking on my friend’s agenda. It may mean laying down my free time and giving it to my friend. It may mean laying down my opinion on a matter and allowing my friend’s opinion to take center stage.

It isn’t easy to give up one’s self. We are inherently selfish. No matter how much we desire to encourage others, no matter how disciplined we are, no matter how spiritually motivated we are, our instincts cry out loudly, “Me first!” At some point, our friend’s needs and our self-centered desires will collide. At some point, we will find ourselves wishing we could watch the movie we wanted to see rather than listening to our friend. At some point, we will grow weary of bearing our friend’s burden and think, What about my needs?

So be warned. Helping to bear a friend’s burden will cause personal discomfort. We may be called upon to carry a load that is far heavier than we first imagined, or we may need to carry it for a greater distance than we would prefer. It is important to decide early on if we are up to that challenge if we will bear with the inconvenience for the long haul. If not, we need to be honest with ourselves and our friend regarding our commitment. Backing away from a suffering friend when the going gets tough can be as painful as the worst medical treatment they will endure.

Those who would encourage a suffering friend walk a tightrope between giving of themselves and maintaining their personal health. Yes, we are to bear one another’s burdens, but we’re not sup-posed to carry the whole load. To do so is harmful—to us and to those we seek to encourage. Carrying the whole load for a friend is harmful because it may prolong his or her denial and pain. If we do for our friend what our friend is capable of doing, we may undermine his or her sense of personal worth and hinder his or her continued emotional and spiritual growth.

So it is important for those who would be encouragers to examine both motives and actions. Ask God to help you become aware of your selfish tendencies so that you can truly give of yourself. Ask God to unveil your true motives, so that you can give purely, not for the purpose of building up yourself. Ask God to show you what not to do so that you can set healthy boundaries and avoid a codependent relationship, which is wearying to you and demeaning to your friend. Ask God to help you develop an “energizer bunny” faithfulness—one that keeps giving and giving and giving in a way that draws both you and your friend closer to God and makes you more aware of His loving presence in your lives.

Key to Walking the Path of Encouragement

Sometimes those who suffer can’t even think of what another person could do to help. The following questions might enable your friend to express his or her needs.

  • When may I take your children on an outing (to the park, fishing, ball game, camping, out for pizza or ice cream—you fill in the blank)?
  • What errands may I run for you?
  • What undone chores around the house are weighing on you?
  • What is your favorite meal, and when can I fix it for you?
  • What can I do that would bless your heart today?

A friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.