A few months ago I found myself stumbling (quite literally) through a challenging time. I was exhausted, discouraged, and blindsided by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
My neurologist stressed the importance of a healthy diet, but I was tired and felt weak. Cooking supper was the last thing I wanted to spend my time and energy on.
At first, I hesitated to share my diagnosis with others. After all, this was personal. I planned to handle it on my own.
Unfortunately, there were times when I couldn’t handle it. Finally, I swallowed my pride and asked a good friend for help.
“Maybe, if you don’t mind,” I said, “you could make me a meal for the freezer. That way, if I have a bad day, I won’t be tempted to eat frozen pizza for supper.” She seemed happy to help.
Then one morning she sent me a text. Would this be a good time to drop off a meal?
Absolutely! I was at an appointment, but I texted her right back. That sounds great! Just leave it in my freezer out in the garage.
But right after I sent the text, I panicked. That’s when I remembered my freezer was a BIG mess.
Okay. It sounds silly, but stay with me here.
Someone had spilled something, and never took time to clean it up. I had also recently made some meat loaves, which I plopped onto a cookie sheet and threw in the freezer. I had planned to transport them into freezer bags later. Instead, I forgot. Ugh. My friend will probably think I always throw random food in the freezer …
Then it hit me. If I really want others to help me, I’ve got to allow them to see my mess. And I’m not just talking about my freezer. I’m referring to the messy stuff in life.
It’s a humbling experience, asking for help. I’m still not very good at it.
However, my diagnosis has taught me a few things about how I can help others in the midst of their mess. For example:
If you make an offer, be specific.
I’ve probably said it a hundred times. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” I rarely heard back on that offer.
Now that I’m on the other side of that statement, I understand. Don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate it when someone offers to help. But I say this with all respect. It also puts me on the spot. It’s so much easier to respond to something more specific like:
“Can I make you a meal?”
“Can I bring your kids home after practice?”
“Can I pick up something for you at the store?”
Simple gestures can mean a lot.
Of course we want to be helpful. We’d all like to do something significant. But don’t dismiss simple gestures.
Sure, my friend’s homemade meal didn’t fix my MS, but it did allow me to rest. It took some of the stress off of my shoulders. It gave me some time to process my diagnosis.
Don’t know what to do? Well, do you like to cook? Make her a meal. Are you an encourager? Send her a card or a note of support. Or a personal message on Facebook. (A simple, “thinking of you” or “praying for you,” can be nice to hear on a bad day.) Are you a good listener? Give her a call and let her vent.
One day another friend of mine left me a sweet message that simply said, “You don’t have to call me back. I just want you to know I’ve been thinking about ‘ya, I love ‘ya … and I’m praying for ‘ya.”
It’s not about doing something big. It’s about doing something.
Stay in the middle of the road.
When encouraging a friend, try not to react with extremes. Here’s a couple of examples from my experience.
Example #1: “I know someone who had MS and they spent years in a wheelchair.” Okay, obviously that isn’t positive or encouraging. I could do without the horror stories.
Example #2: “I know someone with MS and they’re doing fabulous. They actually run marathons.” Really? That’s wonderful. But MS is different for everyone. So thanks for sharing, but now I feel a bit depressed because I can’t walk through the mall without tripping or experiencing pain.
One last thing before I hop down from my soapbox. Unless your friend specifically asks, don’t offer medical advice. For example: at this point in time, I’ve decided to change my diet instead of taking medication. I don’t need opinions; I just need friends that will cheer me on as I tackle the challenge.
Above all else, if your friend needs you …
Just be there! Oftentimes – especially when a friend goes through something more serious – we don’t know what to do. So we do nothing.
Walking with a friend through a challenging time can be messy, awkward and definitely difficult. Do it anyway. At least your friend won’t be alone in the mess.