A Challenging Assignment
Important note: when communicating with your friend, be mindful of a possible crisis situation. If your friend is overly distressed or agitated and expresses severe hopelessness and lack of purpose, ask if they have thought of hurting themselves. Most people will respond to this question. If they say yes, suggest they go to a local Emergency Room or call the police for assistance. If they refuse and you believe they are suicidal, call the police on their behalf. It’s always better to make sure a person in deep depression is safe than worry about what they may think of you for reporting them.
What are some ways we can be available while maintaining boundaries? (We’ll talk more about boundaries later.) Here are some examples.
- When your friend calls:
- Answer immediately if you can.
- If you are not available to talk, assure your friend you will call back when you get to a stopping point in your activity. Don’t forget to call!
- If you are available, tell your friend up front how much time you have to talk. 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes? Be flexible, but also set an example for your friend of the importance of boundaries.
- When your friend asks you to visit:
- If you are not available, lovingly tell your friend you will have to wait for another time. Arrange a time to meet so she knows you are sincere.
- If you are available, go for the visit. As with a phone call, tell your friend how much time you have when you arrive.
- When your friend calls in the middle of the night:
- If you wake with the call, answer immediately. Early morning calls can be a sign of a crisis. Determine if the friend is a danger to herself or others and, if so, encourage her to call the police. Or, be prepared to call the police if your friend is at risk and refuses to call themselves.
- If your friend is not in a crisis, listen to them for as long as you’re comfortable before informing them you need to get back to sleep. Arrange to call them back at another time (at your convenience).
Let’s face it. Being a loving and supportive friend is not always easy. Especially when someone is depressed and needs ongoing support. They may call when you’re getting ready to sit down for supper. They may ask if you can come over because they’re in distress, but you’re busy catching up on laundry. They might even call in tears in the middle of the night. Do we need to answer the phone immediately? Can we ignore them until their needs fit into our schedule? Is it really our job to take time out from our lives for someone else?
Before going further, we need to understand the importance of setting boundaries. We want to be available for our friends, but we also need to meet our commitments and responsibilities, and focus on our own mental health. There’s a great passage in Scripture that gives insights into balancing caring for friends and caring for ourselves.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:2-5)
Paul makes it clear we are to help lift up another person’s burden: carrying it with them, walking alongside them, taking the heaviest part on ourselves until our friend’s strength returns. When it does, he needs to again accept responsibility for his life and bear his own load. At the same time, we are not to lose sight of our responsibilities. We need to avoid enabling or becoming overwhelmed in our desire to be available for our friend. Our families, churches, jobs, and social commitments need us, too. We do not want to risk becoming resentful of our friend for taking up too much of our time, or developing a codependent relationship.
What does the Bible say?
Paul reminded the church in Corinth that God was their source of comfort and encouragement. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Notice in this verse that Paul not only refers to God as our source of comfort, but mentions we can be equipped to offer God’s comfort to others because of God’s work in our suffering. The truth is, everyone experiences pain or loss so there is a good chance we can relate to someone who is struggling, even if the circumstances are different.
Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul shares his personal experience with suffering as he worked to bring the Gospel message to other communities. He mentions that part of God’s comfort involved Titus, who came to be a comforter to Paul and his companions. “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6, NASB). Not only did Titus comfort Paul, but he later returned to Corinth to encourage them to give back to God. “So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving.”
Titus made himself available. He followed God’s direction to bring comfort and encouragement to his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Being available for a friend is an act of love and obedience to the Lord. We are not only helping our friend, but we are carrying out God’s command to love others as ourselves, and to love in the way He has loved us. We, and our friend, will be blessed.
Jesus said, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you,” (John 15:9-12, NLT). In other words, be available for your friends and love them as Jesus loves.