Knowing Or Not Knowing What To Say

by Jennifer Acker on September 15, 2022

I've watched many of my friends go through some really hard times over the past few years. Many times, I haven't known what to say or do. I try to check in. I encourage them to let me know what they need. I offer what I know to offer: a listening ear, a hug, a meal, a quiet place to rest, a fun night to recharge, a babysitter, a prayer, a beverage, chocolate, or tacos (that one is in there specifically for Abbie).

Sometimes when things shift, change, or blow up in my life, I say something to people around me and sometimes I stay quiet. Sometimes it's because it's more of a private matter and sometimes it's because I know people will want to help and either I won't know how to let them or I'm not ready to let them (don't judge me, you know many of you are the same way). 

I've learned that many times in these situations we don't know what to say...we don't know HOW to ask for help...we don't know WHAT help to ask for...we don't know what help to OFFER to someone else. Let me just say this, I recently had a big life change, and my friends and family (near and far) knocked it out of the park with their responses and support. They KNEW what to do and they did it! I recently moved my kiddo off to college and I was anticipating it being a rough time for me. I told several friends that I was worried about how I'd handle my concerns and anxieties. I have had more calls, texts, invitations, hugs, etc. than I ever expected and I've adjusted better than I ever expected that I would. My kiddo was quiet for the first week or two and now he sends me short texts and will even squeeze in a quick 5-minute phone call to me occasionally. My anxiety still kicks in every now and then, I sleep with my ringer on full blast volume in case he needs me at any hour, but overall, I'm doing well. Thank you for being my support system! I think the reason that you are all so good at it is because many of you have lived it (or are preparing to do it soon), so you have a pretty good idea of what is helpful.

This thought brings me to the things we aren't always good at…how do we provide support to others who are dealing with crisis? Unless we've lived through the experience ourselves, we often don't know how to support someone who is in the midst of a big life change or crisis. How do you support someone after the death of their parent? After the death of their child? After they receive a diagnosis of a terminal illness? Or after they receive a diagnosis of a chronic illness they will live with for the rest of their lives? Or after they experience a divorce? Or after they reveal a struggle with addiction? Or in the midst of a struggle related to mental health? If you've lived through any of these things, you may have a pretty good idea of what would be helpful to someone else. If you haven't lived through these things, then you may not be sure how to respond and what to do. 

I wish I could write a "How to" guide that we could use in each of these situations, but I can't. Each situation is different, and each person is different. What I can suggest is that when we aren't sure what to say, let's agree that we will still say something. Let’s not avoid the person just because we don't have the right and perfect words. Let's reach out and say something like, "I'm so sorry this is happening/has happened in your life." and then ask things like: "What is one thing that would be most helpful to you or your family right now?" or "Is it more helpful for you right now to talk about it or to not talk about it?” (And then stop and listen and don't give any advice/suggestions unless asked to do so).

There are families in our church who have recently lost a parent, lost a child, received a life-changing diagnosis, are divorcing, are struggling with addiction, are receiving in-patient mental health care, are fighting depression and/or anxiety, are isolated, are in financial crisis, and/or are hungry. It's not easy to talk about these things. It's certainly not easy to ask for help for these things. When we see someone at church, or we see a neighbor and we give/receive a greeting of "Hi! How are you?", how about we give time and space for a response that is more than just "I'm fine"? I know we can do this, because you've done it for me over the past few weeks as you’ve checked on me after my son moved to college. Now, let's covenant do it for others because I KNOW there are SO many people inside and outside of our church who need that. You’ll notice some themes continuing at church over the next few months about relationships, connections, neighboring, and community and I think this is a great way to start building those things.

Want to get more training on how to really listen, meet people where they are, and respond well? 

Consider becoming a Stephen Minister, a Lay Chaplain, consider completing Mental Health First Aid training for community members, and watch for details that will be coming soon on a Neighboring Well Training coming up in October.

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