"My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbours stay far away" (Psalm 38:11).
When I read that verse I thought: how often have I avoided someone because they seem to be totally overwhelmed by misery and I don't know what to do or say? And how often have I had the same thing happen back to me? When I seem like I'm struggling, do those who would normally gravitate towards me stay away – and why would that be?
How do we show true, loving friendship when our friend is in despair? I know that it depends entirely on what the circumstances surrounding the 'wounds' are. It may be that they are the result of bad choices – of sin – or perhaps they are allowing themselves to wallow in self-pity. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is gently point that out and suggest they turn away from what they were doing, standing with our friend however they react to what we say.
There may be times in a friend's life when they are facing depression, and to love them best is to suggest they seek out professional help. Helping them understand that perhaps we can't be the answer to all their problems and deferring to someone who knows better than us might be the most loving thing to do. That may hurt our pride, especially if we are a 'problem fixer', but it isn't that our friend no longer needs us; it's just time to recognise we have limitations and that there are others who can give helpful input.
But what about those moments when we know our friends are simply hurting and our theology doesn't seem to match their experiences? When life has just got, frankly, messy, and we don't have any answers for them?
Are we willing to simply be there, perhaps just sitting in silence or hugging them when all they need to do is get the pain out through sobbing? Showing that we care enough to be there, even if there are no words that can be said to alleviate the situation, may speak volumes to our friend about the depths of our love for them? Sometimes that is exactly what is needed.
All of these responses share one thing in common: learning that truly loving a friend is dying to our own needs and wants. It isn't about us – it's about what is best for them.
I'll leave you with some verses that encourage us to think about our friends before ourselves:
"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Philippians 2:1–4).