Sitting in the Well with the Hurting
March 15, 2022
by steph smith
Premature births. Illness. Miscarriage. Car accidents. Infertility. Death. Divorce.
Unfortunately, we have all been impacted by one or more traumatic experiences such as these. We are surrounded by people experiencing substantial pain and overwhelming heartache and grief; people who are simply trying to get through the day, the hour, or the minute in front of them. How do we lean in and help them in a time of their greatest need?
We’ve all offered a perfunctory, if entirely sincere, “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through,” or “I’ll pray for you,” or “Please let me know if you need anything.” Sympathetic phrases that are not inherently wrong or bad, but if we truly want to come alongside those in our lives who are hurting most, then we must take our prayers and good intentions a step further by doing two things:
- First, we must “sit in the well” with them. This looks like us climbing into the dark pit and sitting with them in their pain - sometimes not saying anything at all. When we cannot identify with someone’s pain, it is easy to spew out what we think are comforting words of encouragement when in reality, we are dumping salt into a gaping wound. When we tell someone that we’re praying for them, it is an act of love that hopefully reminds the hurting person that they aren’t alone in their pain.
- Second, put our words into actions and help take care of their day-to-day responsibilities.
Things NOT to Say
- To a friend who just had a miscarriage, I’m so sorry, my friend. These things happen. These empty words cut the grieving mother’s heart like a knife.
- To a friend going through a divorce, It must not have been meant to be. Your friend is grieving the loss of a dream - of what life was supposed to be.
- To one whose child just died from cancer, He’s in a better place, or He’s no longer in pain. These phrases do nothing to comfort the agony and despair writhing within their heart.
- To the friend struggling with infertility, Just relax. Drink a glass of wine, have a date night; it’ll happen. This kind of advice is as foolish and ignorant as telling a person with cancer to relax and expecting them to wake up healed from their diagnosis the next day.
Rather than say things that hurt more than heal, instead, show up at their house with a lasagna for dinner and a box of tissues. Turn your phone on do-not-disturb and be present with them in the pain. Cry with them, and offer comfort through a hug or a hand-hold. Those hurting need you to attune to their feelings - even if you cannot identify with their pain, they need validation.
Continue to show up with words of love and compassion through handwritten notes and phone calls. Most of all, please do not try to rush them through their grief. They will let you know when they need your hand to help pull them out of the well, and they will know that you can be trusted to help along their healing journey.
Sitting in the well with our grieving friends communicates that they matter, their pain is real, and you are with them in their suffering. In addition to sitting in the well with your hurting friend, taking on some of their daily tasks will help create the needed space for them to grieve and work through the healing process. So, in place of “Let me know if I can do anything,” give options:
- Create a meal train for the family
- Do their grocery shopping
- Start a fundraiser for hospital bills
- Do laundry
- Clean their house
- Drive kids to/from school
- Mow their lawn
- Shovel their driveway
- Care for their other children or take care of their pets
- Delegate some of these tasks to other loving friends
- Give the option of space and contactless deliveries (that we’ve gotten so adept at)
- And serve your friend with kindness and compassion.
After all, we are not meant to do life independently but to carry one another’s burdens. “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17
Steph Smith lives in Billings with her two young children, Charlotte and McCoy. Steph is an assistant varsity volleyball coach at Billings Senior High, and when she’s not homeschooling or writing, Steph enjoys CrossFit, reading, camping, and hiking. If she didn’t experience motion sickness, Steph would become an astronaut and work for NASA.