When Lisa heard about Crystal’s ongoing difficulties, she knew just what to do. She’d just read an article which had lifted her spirits.
Sure that this was God’s timing, Lisa forwarded the article link to Crystal, along with a favorite Scripture reference and another link to a video of an encouraging sermon.
Lisa felt good about helping her friend. What she didn’t realize is that her “help” actually made things worse for Crystal.
“How can that be?” you may ask. “Aren’t Christians supposed to encourage one another?”
Well, that depends. Let’s use a helpful analogy.
Research shows that falling asleep takes energy. That’s counterintuitive, right? But your adrenal glands actually have to produce enough adrenaline to push you over the edge into a good night of Z’s.
That’s why people who are chronically fatigued often have a hard time falling asleep no matter how tired they are. They lack even the small amount of adrenaline they need to fall asleep.
Spiritual fatigue works in a similar way. Receiving and responding to an encouraging word takes a certain amount of energy and hope.
Those who are too emotionally depleted may not have the capability to take hold of encouragement.
That’s not to say you can’t do anything for your emotionally and spiritually exhausted friend. If he or she doesn’t have the energy for a “yay” kind of word, there’s a better way to offer support.
Let’s begin with what not to do.
Imagine someone standing by the graveside of a loved one. A bystander walks up and says, “Don’t worry, things will get better! Here’s a Scripture verse I read this morning which will cheer you up. Oh, and you should listen to (insert favorite worship song here).”
Yikes! That would be terribly inappropriate, right?
A better approach would be to offer the silent support of simply being there. Or maybe offering a specific bit of practical help.
No cheerleading. No quick fixes. No sure-fire formulas.
This type of support, which is different from encouragement, is called comfort.
Compare these definitions:
Encourage: to inspire with courage, spirit or hope; to attempt to persuade; to spur on or stimulate.
(See how that can seem exhausting when you’re not up for it? Contrast that to the next definition.)
Comfort: to give strength and hope; to ease the grief or trouble of; to console.
Comfort is the gentlest way to lift up our friends when they are downtrodden.
Instead of stimulating them and spurring them on, we offer our strength to ease their load of care. We quietly help shoulder the burden and require nothing from them.
Encouragement requires words, but comfort does not. When you comfort, the less words you use, the better.
Additionally, one phrase to banish from your vocabulary entirely is, “At least,” which always prefaces a lame attempt at cheerleading.
(At least he didn’t suffer…at least you have other children…at least you don’t have cancer…etc. Such comments are unhelpful, as Brene Brown reminds us.)
Comfort is a form of compassion which is so highly valued by God that he weaves it into his name:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” –2 Corinthians 1:3-4
So if your friend is too spent for a pep talk, resist the urge to prod him or her forward. Instead, offer your quiet strength and consolation.
There’s surely a time for encouragement—but there are times when comfort is the best help you can give.