“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate now knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ~Samuel Patterson
I’ve had several conversations recently with different friends that circled around the question of what we really want and need from our nearest and dearest when we are hurting or struggling. The quote above describes well what everyone I have discussed this topic with ultimately seems to need when facing challenging times.
I don’t really think that’s all that surprising. Cultures have even created rituals around this idea, like the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva after a death. We all know, if we really stop and think about it, that this is how we can best serve our friends because this is what we want for ourselves.
And yet, this is the last thing that most of us are likely to do. It causes us such intense discomfort to see those whom we love in pain that we tend to rush in to try to fix it somehow—with advice, pushes toward our chosen solution, or even attempts to force the other person down whatever path we think they need to go. I know I am extremely guilty of this. It’s done with my very best intentions, but it is so often the last thing that my friend needs.
I’m not arguing that there may be times when we do need to exercise some “tough love” in pushing someone to get out of a rut of their own making, but I think we all (myself included) tend to head that direction much too quickly. I find that the times I am most tempted to do this that I will find that I’m often really reacting to my own internal gremlins more than I am to a genuine need of the other person’s to be pushed into action.
It’s so easy to think that we can see another person’s issues so clearly—and it’s not unusual to see another’s issues more clearly than they can see themselves—but without living in that person’s skin and having experienced their history and knowing their unique needs, we are always seeing only a reflection of their full reality. And that reflection is always distorted by our own needs and history and gremlins. This is particularly true when another person’s way of handling difficult times is very difficult than our own.
During my own current journey through this chrysalis, I have repeatedly found that the greatest moments of healing for me have come when a friend is able to sit with me and just hear me and truly see me as I am in the moment—with no agenda of their own. No path down which they want to send me. No pressure to be any more together than I am. No need for me to be in a different place in any way.
I have had several different friends offer me this priceless gift in different ways in the last day or so. I can already feel some of the hurting and broken places in my heart beginning to heal just from the grace poured out on me by their loving presence. I am unutterably grateful.
I am also encouraged to learn to be better at offering this same gift to my friends when they need it so I can offer them the same kind of healing grace that I have been given through their gentle presence.