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Tips for talking with friends when they’re having a hard time

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Being a practical help to friends when they are hurting is a huge blessing. Performing acts of service—like bringing food, doing fun things together (i.e. virtual hangouts) when they need to get their mind off of something, and even helping them clean up or finish projects—all make a big difference. At other times, our friends may prefer someone to just be present with them, to listen to what is on their mind, or to advise and encourage them.

In the variety of reactions and responses across our world sparked by the unjust killing of George Floyd in the last week, we are finding an impact on our relationships. Many of us are left with a variety of questions.

Here are some helpful tips for engaging with our friends when facing hard times such as these:

  • Be available. Being a good friend during difficult times takes intentionality. It is often more convenient to fill our schedules with the activities we have to do and want to do, but leave no space for showing up for our friends if they need time with us. Similarly, it is easier to opt-out of conversations that can make us uncomfortable with our friends. Let the people you care about know that if they are having a hard time, you are ready to make yourself available.
  • Listen intently. Listening is a way for us to learn about the context of what is troubling them. Remember that it is important to listen to the emotions that our friends are experiencing just as much as we listen to their thinking process.
  • Empathize. There is no other "you" in the world. Because of our uniqueness, we may need to use our imagination to put ourselves in our friends' place. Sympathize (feel what your friend feels) if you've gone through similar things, and share if it seems like they would like to know about your experience. Don't tell your story if they need attention focused on them at the moment.
  • Ask good questions. Sometimes it is embarrassing for people to bring up a subject. It can be helpful to initiate a conversation with a question when you see that they may need to verbally process something they won't say. If your friend shuts you down after a poignant follow-up question, drop the subject. Practice using your discernment in moments when you can offer another point of view.
  • Let them be hurt and angry. Don't be afraid of their pain or anger. Encourage them to tell God how angry they are or how far from Him they may feel. David did this throughout the Psalms. Cry out to God-- He can take it.
  • Pray. Do this in their presence. Pray out loud, lay a hand on them if you are able to, and ask them if they would like to say a few words too. Before parting ways, ask how you can continue to pray for them and tell them in the moments when you do.

In our relationships, it is not always going to be easy and it is not always possible to have this level of friendship with all of your friends. Nonetheless, as we seek to choose our friends wisely, we should also invest in them richly. Take heart that God can use us in powerful ways for positive change in the lives of others when we take His hand.

For more about helping young adults become a better stronger friend, check out our Intentionally Friends module within the Relationship IQ Manual.