Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that friendships are too much work or that we’re just fine on our own. But what happens when the bottom of our world falls out and there isn’t an established framework of support to keep us standing? In this article, Sarah Damaska shares an experience when she was thankful for and supported by her friendships. She also shares 4 different ways you can build relationships and learn how to help a friend in crisis.
If you take a left out of my driveway and drive a little over four hours, you can get to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The drive there is beautiful, but the ultimate reward is crossing the majestic Mackinac Bridge. If you’re prone to holding your breath while driving across bridges, you’d better steer clear of this one. It’s five miles long and is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
There’s almost a guarantee you’ll encounter construction crews somewhere in that five miles of bridge. In fact, there are 3500 people employed at the bridge to ensure everything is working as it should. 3500! In order for the bridge to safely connect one side of the land to the other side, there must be constant maintenance.
Bridges and Friendships
It’s easy to draw an analogy between bridges and friendships. Childhood friendships are easy and effortless. But as we grow older, friendships get more complicated. Deep and lasting friendships don’t just happen. They take maintenance by building trust, showing humility, and cultivating loyalty. There’s value in building a firm foundation then putting time into it to keep it maintained. This is true both in bridges and in friendships.
It’s tempting to believe friendships are too much work. I can easily believe the lie that I’m just fine on my own. But let me tell you why it matters. These years of everyday moments of building strong bridges of friendship means when the bottom of our world falls out, there’s an established framework of support that still stands.
I HAVE NEVER FELT SO ALONE
I never needed that support more than I did the day my phone beeped with a strange notification. It was telling me Mom had just completed a drive, but it was too late for her to be out. After Dad had died a few months earlier, we’d decided to add her to our family tracking app. It was a big adjustment for her to live alone. So it gave us all a peace of mind to know where she was. But this was strange. I called her, expecting to wake her. An ER nurse picked up instead, and that’s when everything began to fall apart.
I rushed through the night to get to her, driving the four hours between us. My husband called the hospital, then called me, called the hospital, then called me. The news kept getting worse. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so they quickly transferred her to the cardiac ICU in a much larger hospital. Just three months earlier we had suddenly lost my dad. Was I going to lose my mom, too!?
Alone I drove, alone I walked into the emergency room, alone I walked into her room, alone I answered questions and gave information. I sat alone in a dark waiting room, met by a doctor who told me she was unstable and probably wouldn’t make it through the surgery she needed. Alone I made decisions and prayed desperately for God to give her life.
At 6:00 a.m., I began to text people to let them know what had happened through the night. Within moments, my phone rang. It was Jeanne, Mom’s good friend, who was throwing clothes in a bag to stay overnight with me as she prayed words of peace into my ear.
Immediately my phone rang again. It was Neile, who has been a voice of reason and accountability to me through many years. Together we’ve walked through many seasons of grief.
Not one minute after we hung up, Dawn called. She’s the one who sits next to me as our kids play sports together. We live five minutes from each other. Through tears, she prayed with me.
I cut her short when a nurse walked into the waiting room and sat beside me. He had been by Mom’s side through the night, caring for her. Gently, he told me what was going on.
Four friends, who don’t live in the same state or even know one another, one right after another, reminded me I wasn’t truly alone. The power of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and the bond of friendship washed over me.
Soon I would be surrounded by family and friends. Mom would make amazing strides causing the doctors to shake their heads in amazement and utter the word “miracle” more than once. Soon I would begin to process it all.
But at that moment, I needed my friends. In a time of crisis, they immediately reached out to me.
The truth is, friendship takes guts. It’s costly and painful. But Jesus calls us to be friends. Sometimes He calls us to provide for others who are in crisis, and other times we’re the one on the receiving end. Life is funny like that. But God equips us now for the trials we’ll face later. We are building bridges today that are strong foundations for the moments we will need it most.
How can I be a friend to someone in crisis? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that question as I’ve processed that morning when my friends held me together. Each of them served me in their own way, unique to our friendship. Here are some of the ways the events of that morning taught me to intentionally pursue friendship:
1. BE A GENERATIONAL FRIEND LIKE JEANNE
Up until a few months ago, I didn’t even have a way to contact Jeanne. I’ve always thought of her as Mom’s friend. But because of her friendship with my mom, she didn’t hesitate to reach out to me. You see, the friendships you’re building right now aren’t just between two people. Like the roots of a tree, they extend out, forming a network between spouses and kids, other friends and family. Our friendships cross generations.
One of the principles my husband and I have pursued as parents is what we call “widening the circle.” We’ve actively put people into our children’s lives who hold our same values and beliefs. Do you remember as a teenager when you had an issue you were working through, but you didn’t necessarily want to go to your parents to hash it out? In those moments, you inevitably found another adult to talk to. So we’ve worked hard to put trusted adults into our children’s lives.
My parents did the same. And one of those people was Jeanne. Because of her friendship with my mom, she was immediately a trusted friend to me. Being a friend in a time of crisis sometimes means ministering to the generations before and after.
Have you ever stopped to think about the ways your friendships span generations? Are your friends a trusted voice for your children? Are you building relationships that pursue God’s peace and love, so when someone around you needs it, you’re a safe place for them?
When a time of crisis comes, being a generational friend means you don’t have to establish trust, because it’s already there.
2. BE AN HONEST FRIEND LIKE NEILE
There was a time in my life when I needed a friend who wouldn’t beat around the bush. I had buried my 6-month-old daughter and tried my best to keep on living life like normal. Only it wasn’t working. While it looked like everything was fine on the outside, inside I felt like I was slowly drowning. And Neile was the friend who dared to confront me on it.
I’ll never forget the moment. We were standing in her kitchen, making egg casseroles. She looked at me and told me no one expected me to be “Super Woman.” The immediate tears in my eyes told me she was right. Her love and compassion for me were so precious in those moments, even though she was telling me some hard truths. I lost track of how many eggs I cracked into the bowl—something we still laugh about today.
So when she called me the morning of Mom’s emergency, I knew she wasn’t going to let me ignore what I needed at that moment. She encouraged me to eat, encouraged me to get out and take a walk. And she hasn’t quit. Several times a week she checks in on me. We laugh a lot through our shared Marco Polo app, and she never fails to ask me how I truly am. I know if I don’t give her a straight and honest answer, she’ll dig a little deeper.
It’s not easy to be this kind of friend, especially in a world where we try hard to keep only the shiny parts of us exposed. But you know as well as I do how exhausting that can be.
I’ve traveled to Haiti many times and it took me a few trips before I could put my finger on one of the things I admire most about the people there. Their extreme poverty means they have nothing to hide. Life is hard and impossible. So much has been stripped away. They invite you into their struggles because they are dependent on God for everything down to their next meal.
We, on the other hand, can easily hide how we’re really doing.
Do you have a friend you can be completely honest with, one who knows when you’re covering up the parts of you that are hurting and broken? Have you fostered relationships that are gut-level honest? After establishing a friendship like this, when a time of crisis comes, you don’t have to cut through the layers to get to the heart of the issue. You’ve done the hard work ahead of time.
3. BE AN EVERYDAY FRIEND LIKE DAWN
I’m in the mid-life stage of life where friendship has to be intentional or it doesn’t happen. High school and college years are full of easy and constant friendship, and I needed that connection like the air I was breathing. I’m no longer a young mom, longing for playdates and someone to commiserate with. Friendship for me looks like sitting on the bleachers and having snippets of conversation between plays. It’s a quick breakfast out between school drop off and grocery shopping. It’s mostly texting, because there just isn’t a lot of time for real phone calls.
But that doesn’t mean everyday friendships only hover on the surface of things. Everyday friends know us more intimately—our quirks and what we look like without makeup. They know how we drink our coffee and walk in our houses without knocking. Everyday friends know our flaws and love us anyway.
I’ve often wondered if this was the kind of friendship between Jesus and Lazarus. While we only have a few stories of the two of them in the Bible, have you ever imagined the kind of friendship they shared? In the countless moments not recorded for us in Scripture, I can picture them talking and laughing, sharing life as two boys do. One of the most poignant verses of Scripture is John 11:35, when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death: “Jesus wept.” Rarely in Scripture do we get glimpses of Jesus’ emotions, but here we know He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. His friend had died.
Everyday friends know us most intimately. When someone is in crisis, everyday friends are the ones who know just what to do and what to say.
Who are your everyday friends? Have you done the work to make sure these friendships go beyond surface conversations and projects to accomplish? Let’s be careful not to let the mundane tasks of life clog the deep significance of these strong friendships.
BE A STRANGER FRIEND LIKE DAVE
A stranger friend is different from all the others, and I suppose you could argue that it doesn’t even count. I mean, I don’t even remember if Mom’s nurse’s name was really Dave or not. I’m sure he told me, but in the gravity of the night, I completely forgot. He looked like Dave to me, so it’s what I call him in my head.
Here’s what I can tell you: On that night when I was so very alone, not knowing if my Mom would live to see the next hours, he was such a gift to me. I had been told I could not stay with her all night, but he made a way. Around 3:00 a.m., the cold settled into my bones. I knew it was shock. I could not quit shivering as I watched my mom suffer. Dave brought me a warm blanket and when I reached out to take it, he instead wrapped it around my shoulders. Later, when it got even worse, he came to find me in the waiting room. He showed kindness and compassion to me in such tangible ways. I may not be able to tell you his real name, but he gave me hope that night.
Sometimes God calls us to be a friend to a stranger in a specific, concentrated way. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is an amazing example of this. The man who was wounded and bloody on the side of the road, left to die, was tenderly cared for by a stranger. And not only did the stranger take him to a safe place, but he sacrificed his time and money to do so.
Mister Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” You and I are called to be helpers. Being a friend to someone in crisis is sacrificial, because it may leave the story unfinished. The man who wrapped the blanket around my shoulders doesn’t know how we’re doing now. The Good Samaritan didn’t get to care for the wounded man himself. We may get to step in for a time and go to great lengths to provide for a need, but we don’t often get to see the end result. And sometimes that feels hard. But it doesn’t mean we should shy away.
How quick are you to serve someone who is in crisis, even if you’ve never met them? What memories do you have of a stranger who tenderly cared for you? Serving a friend in crisis means you’ll have the great privilege of being a helper, even if that person never knows your name.
WORTH THE COST
Friendship takes time and effort. It takes sacrifice and maintenance. But there will come a time when you need the strong foundations you’ve built to help you stand when everything begins to fall apart. The everyday ways you are building friendship today will be a blessing in the days to come. So do the work. Make the phone call. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to be the kind of friend who serves others in their crisis.
Jesus, in these days, friendships are hard. We easily talk ourselves into being too busy to put in the effort. We convince ourselves that building up walls instead of trusting others to see our flaws is better. Will You break into our faulty thinking? May our friendships draw us deeper into our understanding of who You are: our greatest Friend.
Take a moment to thank God for the friendships in your life. How can you more intentionally invest in and cultivate your friendships in this specific season?
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