three girl friends talking

Knowing how to comfort a friend who is going through a hard time is a delicate act. You want to be there for them and offer emotional support, but you also want to respect the fact that your friend needs space. Here are some thoughtful tips on how to comfort someone and show your support without crossing any boundaries.

We all know what ugly crying is—your mascara won’t survive it. It’s the kind of crying that scrapes at the bottom of your tummy, leaving you raw and sore; crying that sounds like a wailing cat; crying that renders ice-packs and chocolate useless.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I need to grieve alone. Some people quickly turn to friends, throw themselves into their arms, and sob when the soul-breaking hits.

Not me.

Leave. Me. Alone.

“Jenna, want to walk and talk it out today?”

“No.”

“Jenna, let’s grab a coffee, and you can process with me.

“No, thank you.”

“Can I at least pray with you?

“Nope.”

I’ve wondered if something is wrong with me. Am I too proud to accept help? I’ve come to realize, however, that telling my precious friends I’m not ready to talk is asking for help. I’m asking them to help me grieve in the way that works for me. Finding friends that don’t take offense to this is a tremendous blessing! 

All of us process heartbreak in different ways—here is what it looks like for me:

  • A lot of ugly crying.
  • Lying face down.
  • Uglier crying.
  • Praying.
  • Grisly crying.
  • Reading the Bible.
  • Civilized crying.
  • Prayer journaling.
  • Dainty crying.
  • Repeat.

True friends give us the space to ugly cry alone—if that’s what we need. Seriously, if I even look at a friend before I’m ready to share, I burst into uncontrollable tears in school parking lots.

I just can’t.

Profoundly, the women in my life honor my request. They don’t come bursting through my boundaries. Sometimes, the best way to truly support a friend is to stand outside the door and be there when they’re ready to come out.

I recently had a season of mourning, and each time I opened my front door it seemed there was something waiting for me. There was a mocha, a croissant, flowers, chocolate, a note saying, “You are loved”—even a homemade tabbouleh salad!

Each treasure was a reminder: “We’re here for you—when you’re ready.” 

This helped in the healing journey more than the physical solitude. I don’t really want to mourn alone. My body wants to be solo, but not my spirit. My spirit was being loved and prayed for as my body was huddled on the floor. I could feel it. And it made all the difference. 

As believers, we’re encouraged, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, NIV).

What does this sort of love look like? We can’t simply hold our affection in our hearts, expecting others to sense it. Practically loving a friend at all times requires learning to catapult affection over a wall. We must consider: How do my friends feel cherished by me? How do they grieve? What makes them feel seen? 


As someone who has been on the receiving end of such sincere friendship, I’d like to share four practical ways to help you support a friend who’s having a brutal week.

 

ASK THEM WHAT THEY NEED, AND ACCEPT THE ANSWER

If they decline a hangout invitation, don’t push the subject. Find a way to love them outside the door—a thoughtful note, their favorite chocolate, cozy slippers. If you offer a coffee date and they say yes, jump in your car and hustle over there. Elijah affirmed his friendship with Elisha saying, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:2). The point is to affirm they’re not alone.

 

TEXT THEM YOUR PRAYERS

I have a best friend who texts me prayers as though she is speaking them over me—complete with, “Dear Lord” and “Amen.” Sometimes a simple, “I’m thinking of you” is all we need. Other times we need a full prayer via text.The point is to affirm you care enough to bear their burdens and lift them to God (Galatians 6:2).

 

MAKE THEM LAUGH

Instead of asking how I was feeling over and over, my friend texted me a photo of her newly cracked treadmill with the line, “I killed it with my fatness.” I busted out into laughter. This gorgeous mamma is eight months pregnant! Another sweet friend texted me funny animal videos every day. Laughter brings our spirits up for fresh air. “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter” (Psalm 30:5, MSG paraphrase). The point is to affirm an eternal perspective. They won’t feel this way forever.

 

ASK GOD TO SHOW YOU WHAT THEY NEED

Too often, we try to comfort others the way we would want to be comforted. But God has made us all tick in different ways. Before whispering in your friend’s ear that her mascara is running, run to your Wonderful Counselor and pray for guidance and sensitivity first. Ask God how to care for the people you love in ways that give comfort and hope. Ask Him for strength to share their burdens wisely and well. 

***

This life gives us many reasons to ugly cry. But the next time we’re struggling to know how best to comfort a suffering friend, we can turn to the “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” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Perhaps then, in the midst of all the ugly, burdens can be shared, and healing can begin. 

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4 comments
  1. My husband died October of 2020. I haven’t been able to cry since right after he passed away, but tonight I couldn’t stop crying, them trembled physically and then vomited. I am calmer now but still shaky. I could use some help. Your words comforted me.

    1. Dear Carol,
      I am lifting you up in prayer right now. Father God, wrap your arms around Carol, blanket her with your peace. I pray she feels your presence as she mourns, knowing you are a God that cries with us. Meet her in the spaces others can’t reach. We love you. Amen

  2. Such a wonderful devotional. I’m actually going to use these 4 tools on my teenagers when they tell me they’re “fine” but I know they’re not

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