Asking the Right Questions When a Friend Is Suffering

Why didn't you TELL me?

How many times do we find ourselves in the shock of another person's crisis, only to find that things have been quite bad for a long time?  A serious surgery is suddenly scheduled with the possibility of great peril.  A child commits suicide.  A family's home is in foreclosure.

At times like these, those of us around the victims find ourselves grossly inadequate, thinking we should have known.  How could this happen?  What could I have done to prevent or help with such a crisis in my friend's life?

Sadly, the answer to the question, "Why didn't you ever tell me?" is usually, "You never asked."

When we are worn and battered by the heavy circumstances of life, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach out to others for help.  Exerting that level of humility requires energy that needs to be dedicated to our problems.  We don't know how.  And if we do, we are so very fragile that we fear we might break if the answer is "No."  We despise being a burden on others.  We succumb to the cultural pressures of believing we should be wholly self-sufficient.  We also fail to realize that we rob others of a blessing when they are not allowed to bless us.

There are ways to draw those of us who are more prone to suffering out of our shells, admitting our need to help.  One of those ways is asking the right questions.  Here are a few to ask the next time you suspect God is sending you to be His hands and feet:

  1. How are you doing?  Really?  -- Don't ask this question unlessyou are truly willing to listen.  Once you are, give that person your undivided attention.  Try to hear and learn the nature of the real pressing issues.  Ask if you are hearing and identifying those issues correctly.  If you do just this one thing, the amount of care and attention you share with another human being is more than 99% of the rushing world around you.  We all want to know that we are important enough for someone to listen to our cares and concerns.
  2. How can I pray for you right now? -- So many of us can be excellent at uttering an unwittingly flippant, "I'll be praying for you," without actually doing it.  While we may find it difficult at first, learning the skill of extemporaneous prayers, prayed aloud with the object of those prayers is a powerful, lifelong gift.  Those hearing us pray aloud for them care little about how neat or perfect our prayers are.  Instead, they feel the love of our hearts joined with the love of an eternal God who cares intimately about our troubles.  When we ask this question and receive an answer, even if it is, "I'm not sure," praying right then and there with that individual is incredibly edifying.  Checking back and asking again also demonstrates continued concern.  None of us like to feel like we are being blown off, dismissed, or expected to just get over our troubles in one brief discussion.
  3. What would you like me to do to help? -- This is another question we really need to mean when we speak.  In a rushing world that wants the quick fix, slowing down long enough to actually assist another person is a big deal.  Sometimes, when that person doesn't know how to express what they could use from you, it helps to plant suggestions through more specific, probing questions.  "Can I take the kids for awhile, so you can get a break?"  "Can I bring you a meal?"  "Can I come clean your house for you?"  All of these are questions I have been asked at seriously tumultuous times.  They blessed my socks off, because I never would have thought to ask those things of another person.
  4. What is the latest on...? -- This again demonstrates that our concern for another person is more than temporal.  Asking for an update on the health of a loved one, the status of a child, an obstacle in need of conquering all makes the questioner a co-laborer in Christ.  You enter into a person's problems in a more significant way when you ask for a progress report, showing that they have not been forgotten.

Just these 4 simple, but powerful, questions can grow us in relationship with the hurting soul in our lives, whether it be our friend, our child, or our spouse.  They build community and compassion for one another.  They avoid the trouble of offering unsolicited advice or pushy suggestions.  Yet, they show how deeply we care about a fellow sojourning soul who is hurting.

Do you have other questions you wish someone would ask you when you are hurting?  Leave us your thoughts in the comment section below.