I recently went through a challenging and difficult season personally and one of the ways the Lord blessed and comforted me the most was through my community: the people I love and who love me, who I live life with regularly. Both close church family members and long term friends jumped in to serve me and love me when they heard about my struggle. Through their service, I was reminded of some of the very best ways to practically offer love and encouragement to others.

Take the initiative to reach out first. When a friend is hurting, often we wait to hear from them out of a desire to not overwhelm them or overstep their comfort level. But hurting people do not always have the emotional energy to reach out and, in their pain, often forget how much support is around them. Write a note, make a call or even send a text letting them know 2 basic things: I love you and am sorry you are hurting, AND I plan to help in any way I can. The encouragement of many women sending me scripture, warm thoughts and offers to show up for me were overwhelming evidence of God’s love and care for me.

When offering help, give two or three specific ways you are able and willing to do so. Another truth about pain is it often shuts down our thinking and decision making for a period of time. Hurting people do not always know what they need. It is easier to choose from a few options than create them. Offer to come clean or run errands. Bring dinner or bring a gift card for eating out. Come sit and listen or meet them to go walking. A friend of mine during that tough season sent a text saying “I am bringing you lunch from Blue Coast. What would you like?” Another friend asked very specifically about areas she could imagine I might need help or support and then set a time to come in that conversation, so the issue was off my plate. (Disclaimer: if a friend refuses help, don’t be offended or discouraged. Sometimes people struggle to let others into their pain or feel guilty accepting help. Drop a little care package at their home or work with things that are comforting like herbal teas, lotion, candles, chocolate- and a note reminding them of your love and prayers.)

Always point your friend back to hope in Christ. Suffering, stress and pain tempt us to believe God has abandoned us. In times of suffering, you do not need to explain why God would allow this is their life (remember Job’s not so helpful friends?) but rather that God loves and cares for them in the midst of it. That they are not alone. That God is hurting over brokenness with them and one day will wipe away every tear. Our ultimate hope in suffering is that something better is coming and one day all pain will be gone forever. Using scripture, songs and your own words, encourage your friend to stay focused on Christ who endured suffering on their behalf, so that one day it would be no more.