Finding words of support in hard times isn’t about formulas. It’s mostly about listening, avoiding uninvited advice, and offering support for the current moment.
Here’s a recent example, with some commentary on why I said what I said.
A friend texted the other day: “The police just brought my dad home. He got lost. Dealing with aging parents is hard.”
Offering support by text is challenging and clarifying. What can you say in a few words to a friend in the middle of a short-term crisis and long-term context?
I agreed that it’s hard.
I asked if he had ID, if that was how he was found.
I left my friend know that I was glad to be asked.
“There’s a lot we don’t know now,” she said.
“There’s a lot he doesn’t know, too. That’s the hard thing (one of them). His own fear at his confusion.”
I’m increasingly sensitive to the fear that lies behind. People feel betrayed by their bodies and their minds. They are afraid of what is happening and what could happen, physically, relationally, spiritually.
“I don’t have answers.”
I don’t. And I’m not going to offer platitudes or explanations or plans.
“But God is talking to God on behalf of your dad right now.”
In Romans 8, Paul talks about the Spirit praying when we cannot find words. I realized one day that includes people who cannot think clearly. God takes over both sides of the conversation.
“And he is, at the moment, safe. Which is why there is space for thinking about what might have happened.”
When we are in the crisis, our thinking is focused on the crisis. Getting home, getting to a hospital. But when we get to momentary safety, it helps our heads and hearts to remember that, to allow them to catch up to our bodies. And often, in that moment, we start thinking about what could have happened. Eventually, that will be helpful for planning. But in this moment, those things didn’t happen. And that is worth noting.
“And whatever you need to do to give he and your mom protection is fundamentally love.”
We are afraid, often, to tell people what to do. This is particularly true when it feels like we are taking away options (like keys or like ability to walk outside). But parents are aware of the need to provide boundaries and protection for little children. We know that it’s a practical expression of love. And at the other end of life, that way of providing love is important, too.
This is not, of course, a comprehensive essay. Much more is available in other places on all the elements of the causes and next steps and dangers. But often, our friends don’t need comprehensive essays. They need quiet help.