The Power of Friendship

It is a natural tendency for us to try to help those who are grieving to feel better. Instead of weeping with those that weep, we try to get those that weep to laugh with us. Without meaning to, this trivializes the pain. I remember telling my family once, “When someone sees me being sorrowful and suggests a simple solution like taking me out to coffee, it is like saying to me, that a date out for coffee will fix the fact that my husband is in federal prison.” This might sound a little caustic, and perhaps in my raw emotional state, I tended towards judgment. It was not the genuine offers for time spent together that I scorned. It was the seemingly flippant offers that were weighted down with the idea that I needed to get over it and get on with life. It seemed excessively simplistic to me to think that some outing would “get my mind off it.”

One of the reasons we find it hard to comfort those who mourn is because we think on the surface. We cannot change the situation so we attempt to effect change in others’ responses. We see strong sorrowful emotions as a negative and try to help people overcome those feelings. Denying the emotions of pain and suffering will only develop calloused hearts. Allowing that pain to run its course creates new channels of compassion and carves out cavernous ravines to be filled with the river of God’s love. Just as we do not value waiting, neither do we value pain as we should. Clearly, suffering both physically and emotionally, are avenues to increased capacity. To inhibit that in a suffering friend’s life, is really doing him a disservice.

I have learned a lot about how God uses the body of Christ to minister grace and healing to those who suffer. The friends and family that He has put into our lives have been a testament to His powerful work.

Even though it is a hard thing to do, being with someone in their pain is perhaps most meaningful when we don’t try to fix anything. One of my closest friends from childhood demonstrated this kind of loving friendship the week after Joel was sentenced. She traveled from Wisconsin to spend several days with the boys and me. She entered into our lives with small gifts, cards,  words of encouragement, and an understanding presence that allowed us to grieve.

A precious spiritual mentor and friend of mine has spent hours poring over Scripture with me, challenging my thinking, and encouraging me to allow the Spirit to do His work in the middle of this painful path I am on. One day when my grief was turning inward and decaying into wretched self-pity,  she told me, “Tabitha, you don’t have the luxury of choosing sin, not even for one minute.” Her forthright observations, and even chastisements wake me up to the deceitfulness of my own heart and the sin that lurks ever present.

Others had shown a Christlike compassion in a myriad of ways. One thing that means so much to me is having friends who are interested in visiting Joel with me, or that ask about him regularly, or communicate with him through letters.  We went through an era in which we felt like lepers. It is hard for Christians to reach out and really know how to be with one another in painful situations. It is even harder when the difficult situation involves shameful sins, even if repentance has occurred.  Those who were not afraid to enter into our messy world and identify with us, even in a time of great shame, left indelible marks on our lives.

The genuine compassion of so many friends in our lives has increased our desire and ability to demonstrate compassion. A person who is compassionate does not offer pat answers, or give sage advice for situations they have never experienced. A person who is compassionate will be honest and not ignore another’s pain. A person who is compassionate will be willing to sit “in sack cloth and ashes” with their grieving friend and say nothing. A person who is compassionate will offer help, not as a way of ending the suffering of another but as a way of participating in that suffering. Those who were not afraid to get dirty by climbing into our messy lives, taught us these beautiful principles of compassion and the power of friendship.

In the three years that I have traveled this journey, I have been amazed at the friends that God has brought across my path. Some have clearly been drawn by His hand to minister love and grace to me. Others have been drawn by His hand, for me to minister love and grace to. What a precious treasure the body of Christ is!

5 Responses to "The Power of Friendship"

  • “Denying the emotions of pain and suffering will only develop calloused hearts. Allowing that pain to run its course creates new channels of compassion and carves out cavernous ravines to be filled with the river of God’s love.” Thanks for verbalizing that truth so clearly. It’s going in my favorite quotes file.
    I was wondering if you would do a post on how we can practically support you. I think sometimes we just don’t know WHAT to do, so we either do nothing or we do the wrong thing.
    Love you!

    1 shilocain said this (July 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm) Reply

    • Thanks, Shilo. I’ll do a post on that soon. One thing I want to be careful NOT to do is indite anyone. Being with someone in their pain and actually participating practically is a hard, hard thing. I have certainly made blunders in that area with others, so do not want to come off sounding as if I’m an expert. But I can share some of the actions of people around us that were a balm in the midst of our pain.

      2 Tabitha Joy said this (July 27, 2011 at 3:17 pm) Reply

  • Dear Tabitha,
    I see beauty coming from ashes in your words. I’m humbled and reminded of passions that I have allowed to wither in the busyness and overwhelm of life. I’m sorry I have not been a better support to you. I have thought of you and Joel often and left it at that and I am really bothered by that. When I failed to act on those thoughts, I let you and Joel down….and God. It’s not that I think your well being is dependent on me being faithful, (God loves you way too much for that!), but I think it’s important for us all to realize that our failures in love, add to the pain of this fallen world. Your words remind me of the passions that were cultivated in me in the most painful days of my life. Lately, I think I have grown weary of pain and have begun to find ways to avoid or numb it. You remind me of how detrimental that is to my faith. You have encouraged me to keep walking through each struggle and confusion with my heart open to God and dependent on his grace to bring me through stronger. Thank your for your precious heart. You inspire me. I’m sure you have probably heard the song “Blessings” by Laura Story. I think the truth you are expressing is the heart of her song. If you haven’t heard it, check it out. I think you’ll like it.

    My love, Connie Powell

    3 Connie Powell said this (July 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm) Reply

    • I love the song “Blessings”. When I heard it on the radio, I searched for it online and found Laura Story’s album and bought it! I listen to it often and think that she is singing about my life! Thank you so much for your kind words about my blog. I hope it continues to inspire people to follow hard after God. Believe me, there is no malice in my heart for those friends of ours who did not reach out to us in tangible ways. It is a hard thing to do. And I am sure that I’ve botched before with hurting friends. When we realize that our failures in love add to the pain of this fallen world, we have the opportunity to allow God to build His love into our hearts and lives so that it oozes out into the relationships we have. God is doing a work in your heart, giving you the kind of tender, active love that this world needs.

      4 Tabitha Joy said this (July 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm) Reply

  • This is an AMAZING post… Thank you!

    In the “stuff” I’ve been going through, there were times when ppl in the church literally said “get over it”. Add that to a childhood where I wasn’t allowed to feel what I felt, and it became messy… And stuff started bubbling over on occasion. I’ve learned since then that it’s not wrong to mourn. Or to be angry. It’s what we do on the mourning, in the anger. I still grieve and get angry every now & again – but it’s not like before… Where it lasted for days, controlling me- leading me down an awful road.

    Thank you again…

    5 Kbh said this (July 28, 2011 at 7:46 am) Reply

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