Pouring a cup of coffee, I relish the steamy aroma. There’s a sweet morning pleasure of that first sip of coffee. It’s going to be a great day. Glancing at my phone on the counter, I check to see if there are any messages.

Up pops a message from my daughter, the one who recently left home to go to college.

My heart stops.

My great day start slams into the unexpected shock of tragic news.

“Mom, my friend’s dad died last night. Idk what to say.”

How to Know What to Say When Hard Things Happen. Four things to remember when comforting a friend.

Tears well as I take it in. I know this child and their family lives in our neighborhood, and my heart grieves at the magnitude of this loss.

Again, I read my daughter’s text. Through the letters on the screen, I know her heart. Caring for her friend, but unsure how to respond. I’ve felt that way at times, haven’t you?

  • How to encourage without sounding trite?
  • How to overcome the fear of sticking my foot in my mouth?
  • How to avoid tripping all over someone’s tender heart with clumsy good intentions?

I’m not a pro at this by any means, but here’s what God has been teaching me about meaningful encouragement.

It’s okay not to know what to say, but don’t leave it there.

4 Things to Remember When Comforting a Friend

1. First of all pray…

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints… Ephesians 6:18

Let’s ask God to train our hearts that our first response is prayer. Pray for help, pray for healing, pray for peace, pray for wisdom, pray for words…

Too often we sigh, “There’s nothing left to do now but pray.” As if prayer is a last resort when all of our efforts and remedies have failed. How would our responses be different if we pray first, asking God to show us what to do and say next?

Cultivate the holy habit of PRAY FIRST.

A great verse to pray:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

How to Know What to Say When Hard Things Happen. Four things to remember when comforting a friend.

2. Love one another.

Knowing my girl was now in class, I texted her back, “Let her know you care. Come alongside with love.”

Visit, email, text, FB message, snail mail–reach out and show you care in whatever way you have at your fingertips. Don’t wait for tomorrow or for when you have more time. Just connect and support. Reach out. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

 3. Resist the pressure to fix.

You don’t have to have the answers or be able to solve the problem–we don’t have that kind of power and last time I checked, magic wands were not available at Walmart. Some days, I’d really love to have a  magic wand…

I’m the kind of person who assumes emotional responsibility for others. When I can’t make things better, my go-to internal response is anxiety. I’m sure there’s some lofty psycho-babble term for this, but the struggle is real. If I can’t make it better, I can at least to a bang-up job of worrying about it.

I’m slowly learning to recognize and let go of that self-imposed pressure to make problems go away. I’m learning to simply be…

Be supportive. Be loving. Be prayerful. Be helpful.

4. Look and listen for God’s lead.

Prayerfully listen to the ideas that niggle at your heart, the suggestions that press into your thoughts. Look to see opportunities God opens. He knows what is needed and how you can best help.

The most effective comfort begins in the heart of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. —1 Corinthians 1:3-4

A few ways God may lead you to respond:

  • physical help–childcare, meals, knowledge, or transportation
  • emotional care–listen, encourage, or be present
  • spiritual support: pray deeply, give scripture, or share your own relevant struggle

When we follow the Spirit’s leading, God works through us to support others in a way that is the best for this person and this moment.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#helpafriend #encouragement”]Every situation is different and cookie-cutter answers lack the power of God at work.[/tweetthis]

When the Holy Spirit moves, He is never trite.

Never insincere.

Never too busy.

And never too late.

This is why prayer is our first and best response. Without prayer, we may miss the stirrings and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

When we invite God in and trust Him to lead,

we have the privilege to be God’s hands and feet,

sharing His heart in a moment of need.

How do you help a friend in hard times? Your idea may be just the thing someone needs to read today.