“Thank you for coming…,” she choked out in a dry whisper through her cracked lips. The hospital pillow crinkled as she slowly moved her head in my direction.
I had just made the 10-hour drive from Dallas to her hospital room in rural Mississippi. I heard she wasn’t well. The hope of recovery and healing was slipping away. I knew the days to come would bring discomfort, heartache, and grief.
As I sat beside her, I knew I couldn’t fix any of it. I couldn’t think of any words to speak that would take away the suffering. There wasn’t much I could do to make the road ahead any less painful.
All I had was the present. All I had was this moment in time with her. And I soon learned how important that was.
How Do You Keep Hope Alive During Tough Times?
I’ve been guilty of throwing around the word “hope” rather casually.
- “I hope I win this contest.”
- “I hope you have a good trip.”
- “I hope I didn’t burn dinner.”
Hope is a word often used when we expect or want something. Sometimes we use it confidently. Sometimes with a twinge of doubt. It’s usually backed by good intentions or optimism.
But it’s more than that. Hope isn’t just “wishful thinking or mere blind optimism.”1 Hope encourages us. Uplifts us. Strengthens us. Hope shows us that “new things are possible, [and] options are not shut down…”2 Hope reminds us that the present, as important as it may be, isn’t the be-all-end-all.
But how do you support a friend going through a difficult time? When they can’t see beyond what’s in front of them…or they start to losing hope. You care for them, but you’re at a loss on how to be there for them.
What can you possibly do?
Be Willing to Step into the Darkness
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…”3
The more I learn about following Jesus, the deeper I understand what it means to be a light. I used to believe it just meant being a Christian in a world full of non-Christians. But I think it means something more than “us versus them.”
Think about a time when the electricity has gone out. You can’t see. You stumble around. You run into a nearby table or wall.
Then remember when you found a match or a lighter. What happened? That one little flicker of light changed the darkness.
Stress. Despair. Discouragement. Grief. The things weigh people down and can start to snuff out their inner spark.
Theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer said it well: “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
But here’s the catch — it’s hard to be there for others if you’re not with them. You must step into where they are. And before you do that, you must first be willing to go. To meet them in their darkness. To sit with them in the trenches. Even if you feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Once you’ve decided you’re willing, now what?
Show up — It Matters
You want to be there for others, but maybe you aren’t sure how. That’s okay. We can pick up tips and learn from the One who consistently models what it means to be present — God.
Peppered throughout Scripture and history are countless examples that remind us we are never alone. God always shows up. The Spirit is with us.
God met Hagar out in the desert after she was driven out of her home.4 God showed up for Elijah when he bolted in fear.5 Even Jesus’ very name promises presence — Immanuel, or “God with us.”6
There is a significant power in presence. You make a difference when you show up.
Know When to Say Something (And When Not To)
A willingness to step into the dark places of another is hard. We want to fix things or say something to try and make it better. We open our mouths instead of our ears.
Ecclesiastes 3 is clear on there being a time and a season for everything. That includes “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”7
Knowing when to speak or not is something that involves prayer and discernment. If you do want to share some words, here are a few tips:
- Avoid clichés, especially spiritual ones. “God won’t give you more than you can handle” does little to the friend suffering the pains of chemo. “Heaven gained another angel” brings virtually no comfort to the one grieving here on earth.
- Avoid talking about yourself. It doesn’t mean you can’t express your care. It just means that their pain isn’t your platform.
- Try entering into their experience. What are they feeling? What thoughts may be running through their head? What decisions are looming ahead for them?
- Remember the goal of comforting: To ease the person’s suffering. To perhaps, if even for a moment, lighten their load.
Also, know that sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is sit with the person.
You Can Make the Difference
That evening as I sat by my friend’s hospital bed, I knew that there was little I could do. I sat. I got her a sandwich. When she had the energy, we had short bursts of conversation. I stayed by her side until they released her to spend her final weeks at home with her family.
Watching her go through that part of her journey was hard. Knowing what to do sometimes felt impossible. But I did feel relief when I realized that being present was what was needed. Being there showed her she was loved…that her pain was seen…that she was seen.
Think about someone in your life who may be hurting — someone who could use a spark or rekindling of hope. Consider reaching out to them. Listening to them. Sitting with them. You never know what a difference it could make.
- Wright, N. T. (2008). Surprised by hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. New York: HarperOne.
- (n.d.). Matthew 5:13-16 NRSV – Salt and Light – “You are the salt of …. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A13-16&version=NRSV
- (n.d.). Genesis 16 ESV – Sarai and Hagar – Now Sarai, – Bible Gateway. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+16&version=ESV
- (n.d.). 1 Kings 19 ESV – Elijah Flees Jezebel – Ahab told – Bible …. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+19&version=ESV
- (n.d.). Matthew 1:23 ESV – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive – Bible …. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+1%3A23&version=ESV
- (n.d.). Ecclesiastes 3:7 ESV – a time to tear, and a time to sew; a …. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3%3A7&version=ESV
Ashley Cook is a health and wellness copywriter who loves helping business owners get away from their keyboards and back with their patients.
Born and raised in a small Texas town, Ashley comes from a family of hard workers, storytellers, and adventurers. Her life was changed shortly before her thirteenth birthday when she flew overseas for the first time. She – along with her dad, brother, and grandmother – spent the next three weeks exploring Southeast Asia’s exotic beauty and welcoming culture.
Ever since then, Ashley could be found spending her summers riding elephants in northern Thailand, strolling through Istanbul’s magnificent Hagia Sophia, or accidentally hitting her head on the Great Wall of China (seriously, that wall doesn’t budge).
From the time she was a tween, Ashley’s faith has been a central part of her life. During the Great Recession, Ashley left her corporate job to study international development at Fuller Theological Seminary. She loved sitting at the feet of biblical scholars and hearing the tales of those who lived and served in faraway places. In 2012, she received her Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies.
Today, Ashley lives north of Dallas, Texas, with her two rescue Chihuahuas, Daisy Mae Moses and Nina Marie Presley. She spends her time writing, trying to keep her plants alive, and searching for the next great adventure.