I had a great interview with Greg Wheatley of Prime Time America today. One of the questions he asked me was “How do those of us who are not trained counselors help a friend who is hurting without being cliche’ or flippant.” I thought I would expound on my answer and give a few helpful tips:

1. Provide Comfort. Use words if necessary. When you don’t have the right words, say so. Your presence, your touch, your time, your listening ear, your shared mourning may be enough to provide comfort to someone who is in pain.

2. Ask Good questions! What would you need to know in order to fully grasp your friend’s situation? Rather than jumping in with quick words of encouragement that might be misconstrued, try to put yourself in your friend’s shoes. This is the essence of empathy. What might be a comfort to you may not be to others. Knowing a friend is important to properly encourage them. So what are they thinking, what are they feeling, how have they tried to fix the problem, have they had similar problems in the past? “Now you know…and knowing is half the battle.”

3. Be intentional in your prayers. This is one of the best questions you can ask a hurting friend. “How can I pray for you?” When they tell you, make sure you follow through. This will not only show them that you are genuinely interested, it will also bring you a great deal of joy when you start seeing your prayers answered.

4. Be careful with self-disclosure. One way we can get in trouble with friends is to start talking about ourselves. “Oh, I know exactly what your are going through. When I was…” may not be the best response to someone in immediate pain. Self-disclosure may be important, but if you do this before you have followed step 2, you are making an assumption that you understand when really, you may not. Remember, the focus should remain on the person in pain.

5. Speak true in love. No one can question your motives. If you are genuinely concerned about a friend, they will be able to see it and be more forgiving of any faux pas on your part. Once you’ve shared your heart, check in with your friend to see if there is anything you said that they did not understand or may have taken the wrong way. Be willing to follow up on your words with action. As James 2:16 says, “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

Question: What struggles have you had in trying to counsel or comfort a friend in their pain? How did you handle it?