3 Ways to Encourage a Friend Who’s Sick
by Marissa Henley
On a sunny Monday afternoon in October 2010, a strange scene unfolded in my home. My three young children, planted firmly in front of a video on repeat, were the only ones enjoying the day. My husband rushed home from work to find one of my friends cooking dinner in our kitchen. Another friend silently folded laundry in my bedroom and watched me pace back and forth as I made endless phone calls. I felt the sting of the words each time I repeated the news: “It’s cancer.”
In the days and weeks that followed, the body of Christ rallied around us, providing for my family’s physical, logistical, emotional, and spiritual needs through several months of intense treatment. They wept with us, suffered with us, bore our burdens, and sustained us with acts of service, encouraging words, and persistent prayers.
When one of our friends faces a serious illness, we often wonder, “What can I do to help? How can I encourage her during this difficult time?” Here are three steps you can take to show your love and concern to a friend who’s suffering from cancer or another medical condition.
1. Acknowledge her situation and ask, “How are you today?”
I often hesitate to reach out to someone who’s suffering because I’m afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. I worry that if I bring up the situation, it might trigger tears that could make both of us uncomfortable. I struggle to decide which questions to ask that convey my concern without being intrusive. These situations aren’t easy to navigate.
Over time, I’ve learned that it’s best to acknowledge the diagnosis in the beginning and express my support. Yes, it might bring tears to her eyes. But in her sadness, she knows she is loved and a friend sees her pain.
After I’ve acknowledged the situation, I like to ask, “How are you today?” This question frees my friend to answer in whichever way she chooses. She can tell me how she’s processing her diagnosis, how the chemotherapy is affecting her appetite, or how she feels about today’s weather forecast. And then I can follow her lead, letting her guide the conversation wherever it makes her feel most comfortable.
2. Make a specific offer of help.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, the outpouring of support was amazing. I heard from so many people, and most of them said, “Let me know if I can do anything to help you!” But in my overwhelmed state, it was difficult to match general offers of help with my specific needs. So when a friend made a specific offer of help, naming a particular task she could help with or a day of the week when she could serve me, it made it much easier for me to say yes.
For example, my friend Callie let me know she had free time every Thursday morning and offered to drive one of my kids to school. My four-year-old had preschool those days, and one of my neighborhood friends had taken over my share of the carpool after my diagnosis. For the rest of the school year, Callie drove both of our kids to preschool. Her specific offer of repeated service was a real blessing to both of our families.
Rather than saying, “I’d love to bring you a meal sometime,” try asking, “Would Tuesday or Thursday work for me to bring dinner?” Or you could say something like, “I have free time this Wednesday afternoon. Can I run errands for you or take you out to lunch?” These specific offers will communicate your sincere desire to help and make it easier for your friend to accept your offer.
3. Share God’s promises with her.
Throughout my illness, I faced not only physical challenges, but also emotional and spiritual struggles. I wrestled with anxiety, grief, and my uncertain future. I struggled to read God’s Word when chemo treatments filled my brain with a dense mental fog. Friends cared for my spiritual needs by sending frequent texts, emails, and cards that kept Scripture at the forefront of my mind.
The verses that brought me the most comfort were those that reminded me of God’s presence with me and care for me. The Psalms are a great place to look for these promises. We can love our friends well by frequently reaching out with a card in the mail or a text that says, “You don’t have to write me back. I just wanted you to know that I was praying for you today. This verse encouraged me as I thought about your situation: ‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).’”
When we enter into the suffering of a friend, it won’t be easy. There will be discouraging days and even awkward moments as we seek to understand, love, and serve. But we can always rely on our Savior, the only perfect Friend to those who are hurting. The Spirit will give us wisdom to know what our friend needs and how we can help. And our heavenly Father will hold us fast as we love our friends through illness.
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