Almost two weeks ago, I headed up to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. It was a low-key affair. We ordered Hy-Vee catering for the dinner, and the kids spent the day trashing the house and doing crafts. And then on Friday, we took my mom to the hospital. (Spoiler alert: She was there three days and is now doing better than she has in months, praise God!)
While I waited with her in the ER, I did the only thing I could. I sent emails and messages to friends and church people requesting prayers. I posted on social media requesting the same, as the Twitter community especially has become such a source of support in so many ways.
It’s interesting when you’re in those situations. People you never expected to be able to count on are there, checking in, making sure the entire family is doing okay, and while you get crickets from those who you thought would be among the first responders to your call.
And I get it. It’s so hard sometimes to know what to say to someone who is in a difficult situation. It seems like words cannot possibly be enough. So instead silence seems as good a response as any.
It reminds me of writing world as well. I’ve talked before about surrounding yourself with strong supports in this crazy world, but what about when you are called on to be that support for someone else? How do you respond when someone tells you they got another rejection? Or made it into a contest but got zero requests? The road toward publishing is full of ups and downs and a myriad of strong emotions, and trying to track with people can often be difficult.
So in writing, and in life, here are a few tips to be that support person.
- DON’T stay silent. You don’t have to come up with the perfect words. You don’t have to come up with the perfect solution. In fact, usually it’s best if you don’t try to “fix” whatever situation your friend is in. Something as simple as, “I’m sorry this is happening” or “I’m thinking of you” can be powerful. It’s a terribly lonely feeling to be going through something rough. Knowing there are those out there thinking and praying for the situation can make a dent in that loneliness.
- DO reach out. This pretty much echos the above statement. I think it’s easy for us to feel like we’re bothering someone who is going through rejection or hardship. We don’t want to add to the burden. You’re not. Trust me.
- DON’T take it personally if your friend doesn’t respond right away or even at all. It took me a few days to respond to the texts and emails I received last weekend. Some I didn’t get a chance to respond to, from Bible study friends and such. I was so appreciative of those who reached out, but in the midst of everything it was hard to respond to everything.
- DO check your own feelings. Are you staying silent because of something in your own life? Or are you reaching out out of obligation? I know I said before not to stay silent, but if you are only reaching out because you have to and your heart isn’t in it, I would rather you ignore.
- DO LISTEN. I think this is the most important thing you can do. You don’t even have to respond with more than a few words like the examples above.
I think there are many reasons people don’t know how to support others. Sometimes it’s because it’s an unfamiliar situation to them, and they don’t want to make those trite statements people are prone to make in awkward situations. (“Everything happens for a reason” and the like.) Sometimes it’s because the situation is a bit TOO familiar and they’re dealing with their own trauma, reawakened by your tough situation. Sometimes, and I think this happens in writing world a lot, they can totally relate, but either they’re in the same situation or they’ve moved forward and don’t feel like they have the right to try to comfort those still in an earlier stage of the journey.
While all of those are valid reasons for holding back support, I believe there are ways to work within each of them. And the main point is that every one of the reasons has to do with yourself and not the person who is looking for support. If we can focus outward, instead of worrying about how it will make us look or what someone will think of us, finding a good way to show that support will come much easier.
Look, I get it. It’s difficult to be everything to everyone, and you don’t have to be. Goodness knows I’ve tried. But think about those people in your circle who you count on, and make sure that, at least for them, you’re able to find a way to make sure they can count on you as well.