Sometimes in friendship we are called to Stand In.
When we see a friend struggling, we pause what we’re doing and step into her situation with her. However messy it is, we Stand In beside her. We join her in her moment of distress, coming alongside and being present. Sometimes we Stand In quietly, providing gentle comfort in a time of loss. Other circumstances may call for us to step in with purpose, to take the reins for a while and let her get her bearings. She may need a hug; or she may need space. She may need alone time; or she may need a humorous distraction. When initially faced with a friend’s crisis, we may feel highly uncertain about how to help. This is when we dig deeply into our friendship history, courageously following our instincts and praying for God’s direction to offer what we can that can help her through this particular difficulty. We cannot take on her struggle or fix it for her, but we can Stand In to help hold her loose threads, supporting her as she gathers herself. Our mere presence states, “I am here with you. You are not alone.”
When we Stand In with a friend, this encourages her to slow down and process what challenge she is facing. She may be grieving a loss that’s expected after a loved one’s illness or she may be facing an unexpected loss that has shaken her foundation. She may be overwhelmed by her own health diagnosis she has just been given. She may be grieving the loss of frayed threads, such as the severing of a marital knot that she thought she would always have, but that came unraveled and can’t be tied back together. She may be grieving the connection that she had with a parent who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; that bond now seems shaky and unpredictable. She may be struggling with a teenager’s rebellious and troublesome choices. Pain and grief have many faces and storylines. We can relate to some situations better than others because we have a common thread in our own personal stories. When friends are in distress, we don’t unload our stories onto them. We can empathize with the feelings they’ve shared. We Stand In; we do not take over.
A friend’s struggle is a reminder that we are all vulnerable to disappointment, grief, and despair. It can feel very close and intense, particularly if it mirrors some of our own struggles. Yet it is also an opportunity to love on that friend, to nurture her in ways that help her through her pain. God can use these tender moments to weave friendships even tighter and create beauty where so much anger and doubt has been. He can show us beauty in the cracks of life. It’s not easy to Stand In — to have a magnified view of someone else’s hurt. It’s uncomfortable and messy. It may feel like we “aren’t doing much to help,” but sometimes providing that steadfast presence of authentic support can make it possible for your friend to grasp those loose threads and regain her strength.
“Two are better than one…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
How you Stand In will look different from how I do it or how someone else might. Be real. Be yourself. Being authentic will ring true to your friend when you make your gesture of support. Many of us have difficulty accepting help during stressful times, but the genuine specific gestures are somehow easier to accept.
How we Stand In may also look very different from friend to friend. You may be led to send a card or care package to one, but feel compelled to visit another one face to face. Some friends may benefit from long phone calls, thoughtful emails, or encouraging texts. Sometimes you show up and do laundry, bring a meal, or provide rides for her kids to their activities. Other times you lend support by providing a buffer, perhaps being the contact person for a meal train or coordinating outreach from different sources (church, neighbors, work) so that your friend doesn’t have to manage these. Sometimes you sit beside her as she cries and sobs, providing silent solace. You remind her that she is loved; that she is a child of God. You offer tissues…and chocolate (or whatever her go-to comfort is). Essentially, Stand In when she needs you the most — when she’s not even sure herself what she needs. Embrace the relationship. Relinquish your to-do list and act on those intentions of caring for your friend. Those “good intentions” may just be a whisper from the Holy Spirit sharing insight into what she needs.