6 Tangible Ways to Support the Hurting in Your World
It’s commonplace to rally around joyous transitions, signing up to bring new parents a meal or two to sustain them during the first sleepless days of a newborn’s life, pitching in to help the neighbors throw a graduation party for their high school senior. It’s also commonplace to circle the wagons around those who have lost a loved one with gifts of food and words of comfort. We’re generally good at extremes. It’s the in-betweens that are more likely to get lost, the not-quite-crises and the temporary hardships. These can be easy to overlook in the midst of our own hectic lives. Or maybe we believe whatever little thing we might be able to do just wouldn’t make a difference.
If that’s what we believe, I’m convinced we’re wrong.
I’m a Christian, and one of my favorite parts of the Bible is Chapter 2 of the book of Acts, specifically verses 44 and 45. Here’s what’s described:
All the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. (The Message)
Isn’t this a beautiful picture? Each person’s need was met because everyone shared what they had. You’re probably imagining that they shared things like money, clothing, food, and housing, and I’m sure that was part of it. The passage says they pooled their resources, after all. But I think it’s more than that. The passage also says they “lived in a wonderful harmony.” I imagine they shared their time, their hearts, their personal space. I don’t think they were just meeting physical needs; I imagine they were meeting each other’s relational and emotional needs as well.
Just before Christmas, I underwent a series of medical tests and procedures to determine if I had cancer or some other disease. My husband was working overseas at the time (he still is, in fact), and I have two small daughters. All of our extended family lives eleven or more hours away by car. I had no idea how I was going to cope, but then a handful of friends and loved ones stepped in and filled the gaps. And just like Acts 2 says, all of my needs were met.
The day of my first CT scan, my friend Rachel offered to watch my toddler. When I picked her up that afternoon, to my surprise, Rachel handed me a bag of food: homemade potato soup, fresh rolls, and a sweet treat to share. It was wonderful to have dinner already taken care of. A few weeks later, my friend Laura drove me to the hospital for another CT scan and a PET scan, then sat across from me at Panera Bread for over an hour, letting me talk things out. She took the morning off work to do so, and it was such a gift. Her presence steadied me. A few weeks after that, I had a bronchoscopy. My in-laws were in town for a planned visit, so my mom-in-law drove me to the hospital and stayed until I was discharged. Then she extended her visit in order to be there for my follow-up appointment, where I received positive news: no cancer.
While all of this was going on, friends far and near reached out with encouragement. Some sent Bible verses. Some recorded prayers over Voxer. Some sent cards and care packages. My online community filled my inboxes with prayers, encouragement, and hope. I felt surrounded by arms of love. It’s still going on, in fact. Just this week, my sweet friend Becky told me to drop by for coffee any day I need a break from the routine. She knows my husband is away for another six weeks, and she knows the restoring power of a cup of coffee and a chat with a friend when you’re solo parenting.
None of these actions are earth-shaking in and of themselves, but they meant everything to me. This is why I want to say this to you today: every small act of kindness we engage in for someone in need matters. In truth, it probably matters far more than we know.A friend doesn't have to be terminally ill or even chronically ill for us to wrap arms of love around them. Click To Tweet They might be undergoing medical tests, like I was. They might be a single parent, in a struggling marriage, facing the loss of a job, or simply facing a job they hate. They might be under great financial strain. They might be struggling with anxiety or depression or seasonal affective disorder or even just good ol’ burnout. Good reasons to reach out and share our resources and ourselves abound.
If you feel at a loss as to how to help and support a friend or a loved one who is in need, especially if that need is only something you suspect and not something that’s been verbalized, here are a handful of practical ideas for being someone’s arms of love:
Show up with a hot drink. The notion of dropping by someone’s office or house with Starbucks might seem a bit clichéd, but trust me, a hot drink delivered by the hand of a friend is love in a paper cup. Live too far away to do this? Send an online gift card.
Send a care package. Snail mail is such a wonderful thing. Pack a flat rate box with a cheerful mug; some coffee, tea, or hot cocoa packets; an encouraging or entertaining book (my favorite comfort book to send is Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms by Max Lucado); a pair of cozy socks or a soft, fluffy scarf; a few sweet treats; a music CD or audiobook you know they’ll love. Stick an encouraging note or card on top.
Offer to babysit. Nothing does more good for a tired mom than a few hours to herself. Send her off to browse Target or the local bookstore with a coffee in hand, kid-free. Or, if you know a set of busy parents who never seem to get out for a date night, offer them a kid-free evening to themselves.
Make a meal. This is status quo for new parents, the very ill, the elderly, and the bereaved. But there’s something about a good meal that shores up everyone. Know a lonely single person? Invite him over for dinner at your table. Have a friend whose husband is out of town for work? Call her and say, “I’m dropping off dinner.” Hate to cook? Pick up their favorite take-out. This kind of hospitality never fails to lift the spirits.
Be an appointment buddy. We sometimes assume that other people’s families are there for things like doctor’s appointments, even routine ones. But it can be a good idea not to assume. If a friend mentions medical testing or any kind of procedure, ask if she has someone to drive her and wait with her, someone to be there during recovery. You might be surprised.
Be a safe haven. Sometimes the best gift we can give is a listening ear. It might mean sitting across a table or at the other end of someone’s couch, or spending an hour on the phone or on a video chat. It might mean inviting a friend to stay for a weekend and pampering her with soft sheets, comfort food, and time together. Simply being a safe place for another person to rest and unload their burdens offers a great deal in the way of healing and restoration.We have so much to give each other, in ordinary times as well as in times of crisis. Click To Tweet Who might be in need of your arms of love right now? How can you reach out and lighten their load with a little caregiving?
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. An editor of women’s nonfiction for a Christian publishing house, she is also the founder of theglorioustable.com, a novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, and has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.