A couple years ago I sat across from a grief counselor as I shared how very angry I was at friends who weren't supporting us through a traumatic event like I thought they should. It was especially tough since my husband is a pastor who showed up for the traumatic events in their lives.
She replied, "When things get hard, you're always surprised by who shows up and who doesn't."
I've thought of the truth of that statement over the years as we've gone through hard times. And I've thought of it a lot in the last few days as we were hit by Hurricane Harvey and are now dealing with the aftermath. Some friends checked in every day, first thing in the morning. Others commented on our social media updates and said they were praying. And some don't seem to care at all.
As special-needs parents, most of us have been through tough situations made worse by the absence of friends.
It's an issue that's been happening for ages. In the Bible, Job was grieving great losses. His children had been killed. He had lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. And yet, when facing the choice to worship God or walk away from Him, Job blessed the name of the Lord and remained sinless in his mourning. Then Satan attacked Job's own health and his wife told him to curse God and die. But Job was steadfast and held onto hope. Even when the friends who did show up said things that weren't helpful. Job said to them, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all" (Job 16:1).
In the early days after James's autism diagnosis, I wanted someone to say, "I know this is hard, and I'm sorry." Parents of special-needs kids go through the grieving process. The hopes and dreams we had for our children die. New ones grow, but not until after the shock and pain wear off. The time that takes depends on the parents and the special needs of the child.
But friends can help us through this grieving process. As Shauna Neiquest shares, “When you’re in that place [of pain], it’s a gift to be asked how you’re doing, and most of the time the answer comes tumbling out, like water over a broken dam, because someone finally asked, finally offered to carry what feels like an unbearable load with you.”
I'm reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5,
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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
We comfort others with the comfort we have received. And those of us who have been through challenging times have received the comfort needed to share with others. That's why my friends in Florida were the first to check on me during Harvey. And missionaries I know in Vanuatu (a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean) shared that their friends had been in prayer for us. They comforted us because they know the devastation a hurricane can bring.
When we hear of people suffering, we need to be the first to show up.
It's one of the blessings we bring to our churches. God works through us when we show up. When we share in our friend's suffering. Don't focus on who didn't show up for you during hard times. Release that unforgiveness to God. Learn from how you felt during those times and make sure your friends now won't feel the same way when they suffer.
Naomi Zacharias writes, “God isn’t always there in the form of an answer we want or a cure we seek. But he is there. He is there in the power of a human touch or in the power of a gracious heart that simply declares, ‘I’m sorry.’”