When I was expecting Jack several friends got together and gave me a birth bracelet. Each person contributed a bead and a card with a prayer for me, a Bible verse, or a note of encouragement. This is one of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received, not because I view it as some sort of labor-inducing talisman, but because those words of wisdom and exhortation from friends were helpful reminders as I struggled to handle discomfort and impatience waiting for Jack’s arrival.
When a pregnant woman shows up, it seems like nearly every conversation steers to ways to get through morning sickness, keep perspective or have a better labor – it’s one area of life where I’ve found other women are ready and open to share in suffering and in rejoicing. “Your body was designed to do this…” “This is pain with a purpose…” “God knew your baby’s birthday before the beginning of time…” We repeat these things to each other, passing along accumulated knowledge, building up one friend’s reserves in hopes that she will tell us the same thing when we need to hear it.
Maybe we’re willing to come alongside pregnant friends because their need is evident. Unlike many other areas of pain and struggle in life, carrying a baby is fairly difficult to hide – everyone knows at a glance that you’re uncomfortable, understands the travail ahead of you, and recognizes the immense possibility of the life you carry.
Pregnancy is not the only area of life in which God works through difficult circumstances, pain and discomfort to bring about a marvelous life-giving work. Yet it seems like so often people are reluctant to talk about what they are going through, or to support a struggling friend by admitting they have with a similar trial.
How can we come alongside hurting people and bear them up? When I’ve been dealing with difficult situations, the people who helped me most did many of the same things we do naturally for our pregnant friends.
- They recognized that I was having a hard time. Most people are quite skilled at covering up their problems and putting on a happy face. A rushed and superficial “How are you?” when you clearly only want to hear “fine” is not going to be enough.
- They were willing to make themselves vulnerable so that they could give sincere comfort. Chirpy superficial platitudes don’t help anyone, but hearing the hard-won truth from someone who has been in similar trenches can be a tremendous encouragement. Even if you haven’t had the same problem, sometimes just confirming that the person is experiencing a hard providence rather than seeking to minimize it is helpful.
- They set aside their own needs and agenda to help bear my burden. We’re all busy, and some stages of life are more demanding than others. If you’re like me though, you probably have things on your action list that could be set aside for an afternoon to talk to a friend, or to make a meal for someone, or to write a note just to say you’re praying for them.
A friend of mine is due to have her baby any day now. When I saw her this weekend, predictably everyone was giving her advice. “Take evening primrose oil…” “Clean floors on your hands and knees…” “Eat chocolate cake…” These are our ways of saying “You can do this…” “We’ve been there…” “Take heart…” I remembered how encouraged I have been by other people coming alongside me to let me know they see what I’m going through and they are praying for me. I wonder what would happen if I began to pray for God to show me where He’s working in other people’s lives and they could use encouragement, where I could help bear someone’s burden, or how I could show love to someone who is hurting?
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up… ~1 Thessalonians 5:11
Have you been in situations where others have encouraged and supported you through a difficult time? How do you help others in the same way?
Danielle from Doodles Jewels made my birth bracelet pictured above. If you’re interested in doing something similar for someone you know, I’m sure she’d be happy to help you!
Sub-note: Because every time I mention pregnancy or babies on my blog I receive a torrent of speculative email, please allow me to settle the issue in advance: I am NOT pregnant. 🙂