Michelle Dowell, Contributor
"Given your experience with cancer, what do you say to a friend who's struggling with cancer?" a women in a Bible study group asked one night.
All the women listened quietly for the answer, interested in finding a trick, the perfect words, to help a person through times feel better.
The cancer survivor paused, thinking about it.
"Nothing, really," she said. "It's mostly about being there with that person."
Most of the women didn't expect that answer and some asked her for more, really wanting a phrase or a saying to erase pain. But that was all she said, repeated in a different form.
It's tempting to think there's some saying or series of questions that will help someone in a time of need. Sometimes words can be encouraging--but words that are encouraging or helpful are not stock questions or stock sayings, they need to come out of knowing the person and what might help them.
Sometimes people don't realize that focusing so much on negative things doesn't help. Asking "How are you doing with that cancer?" every time you see that person isn't necessarily helpful. It reminds them of the pain and may seem like you expect it to be difficult every single day and second, when at times that person may feel hope and peace. Taking a break from thinking about a painful situation helps.
This applies to all sorts of times of need for friends. It could be job-related, relationship-related, finance-related, spiritually-related, etc.
People might argue that it's showing empathy and concern to ask these questions or sayings addressing the hardship and therefore it's good. But the Bible tells us to think of positive things. Even though these are questions that are often asked, they are thinking on and encouraging others to think on negative, not lovely, things.
There is a place for those questions and sayings, and a place to weep with those who weep, but wisdom and knowing the friend well will help dictate it. It's not helpful to just say things because you feel like that's what culture tells you to ask or say. People aren't formula, so words to them shouldn't be either.
So, as this woman mentioned, most of the time just being with the person is the most helpful and most important. Doing things with them and learning what they are doing that they enjoy and being happy for any good things in their life and sharing your life or information about common interests helps.