On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective Podcast, I chatted with Danita Jenae about how to handle life’s rock-bottom experiences. The other side of that coin is how to support a friend in crisis. Danita shares what it looks like on a practical level to actually “show up” for your friend in crisis.
How to Support a Friend in Crisis
By Danita Jenae
One of the most helpless feelings is to watch someone we love go through a crisis. We pray for them (and/or worry about them) constantly but have no idea how to really come alongside them. Sometimes we say and do the wrong thing. Or we are so afraid to say or do the wrong thing that we just don’t say or do anything. Neither option feels good.
As a young military family, we always tried our best to support those around us who were hurting. But after my husband died, I experienced being on the other end of crisis… in the thick of it myself. I suddenly became a young military widow with small kids in a new town. The washing machine self-destructed. The alternator died twice. We went through over 18 dead car batteries. Every three or four days, another catastrophe hit the fan. And then the world shut down for the pandemic. It was more than a person can take.
It was in the thick of those first crisis-saturated years that I learned about The Ministry of Presence. The nourishing, encouraging, strengthening power of someone just letting someone know they are not alone. In tragedy, no one can really fix the situation. However, a community’s responses can either alleviate the strain with their presence or their neglect can compound the heartache.
The Ministry of Presence is What We Need to Offer
The Ministry of Presence is simply showing up for your friend in crisis. And your presence is worth more than you can imagine. But how do we actually just “show up”? What does that look like on a practical level?
Here are some ways to get you started:
• Be welcoming.
Invite them in. Ask your friend to join you for a family meal or outing. Invite them to join you in a tradition of yours, no matter how grand or how small. Just being in a family setting (and all it’s chaos and laughter) can bring great comfort.
Invite them to join you even if you’re unsure if they’d want to come. Let them decide for themselves. I once had a woman tell me that she thought about inviting me to a tea party she held a week prior, but she didn’t think I would want to come. (I would have LOVED to come!) So, let’s not answer a “no” for someone before you even ask.
Many people pull away from spending time with someone in crisis, but I encourage you not to do that. When the Lord sets the lonely in families, great healing comes. Let your friend know they don’t need to worry if they need to cancel last minute, but that you’d love their company if they feel up for it.
• Be gracious if they need space.
Some crave company during a crisis, and others pull away. So how do you “show up” for someone who needs alone time? Try sending a letter that simply says you’re thinking of them or that you care about them. Try writing out the prayer you are praying for them in a text message. Try sending a milkshake to their door or by dropping off a comfort item on their front porch.
Need an idea? How about a heating pad, some Epsom salts, or a good book. Ask if you can do their laundry and have them put the basket at the front door and drop it off clean and folded later and assure them they won’t even have to talk to you. These gestures give someone the space they need while continuing to demonstrate that they are not alone.
• Make them feel seen.
It’s good to anticipate the needs someone might have, but it’s also good to just be direct and ask what they need. However, asking “How can I help?” often seems to cause someone in crisis to shut down. This is because in a crisis, our deepest need usually can’t be fixed (ex: I need my husband back) and all the other mini-crises around us feel too overwhelming to even pick one to delegate (the dishwasher, the car, the bills, the phone calls to be made, etc).
But here are some alternative questions I absolutely love:
My sister-in-law asked me, “What is something you’ve been wanting but you can’t seem to buy for yourself?”
My fellow widowed friend asked me, “Is there an item on your to-do list that you can’t seem to do on your own? I’m happy to just sit by you while you sort mail or drive you to the DMV’s office if you’d like a pal.” Now, these are my favorite questions to ask others (and to be asked!).
These simple steps ought to give you a good starting place on how to enter in. The best thing is to show up, even if you stumble through them. For additional creative and practical ways to support a grieving friend and for some powerful prayers to pray, grab the free resource: The Companion’s Guide: How to Help Your Grieving Friend.
On behalf of your friend in crisis, I want to deeply thank you for your heart to support them. At the end of the day, just “show up.” The ministry of your presence can bring your friend more comfort and mental sanity than you’ll ever imagine.
About Danita Jenae
Danita Jenae is a young mom and military widow learning to carry both joy and sorrow in the same breath. She’s the award-winning author of When Mountains Crumble: Rebuilding Your Life After Losing Someone You Love. Danita walks alongside the broken-hearted, offering practical and creative ways to lead a Spirit-led life at danitajenae.com and @CompanionInSorrow. Danita invites you to grab your free copy of The Grief Guide at WhenMountainsCrumble.com.