Q: I have best friend and her mother is very ill. She has cancer and they don’t know how long she has. I know that miracles can happen and I really hope this is one. My friend is very shy and doesn’t really speak about her feelings. She often just pretends that nothing is wrong, but I know she is hurting inside. What should I do?
It is so sweet of you to care that deeply for your friend! Quality, caring friends are hard to find, and I know God is pleased with your love for her. The wisest man who ever lived (King Solomon) said, “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). She is lucky to have a friend who will stick by her side through this difficult time in her life!
My mom passed away from cancer too, so I know a bit of what your friend is going through. But how she handles her grief is going to be uniquely her too. If she’s shy, she might not feel like talking about it much. But you know what? Sometimes the best thing we can do for a friend who is grieving is to just shut up and be there!
There was a man named Job who felt that way. When Job lost everything (and I mean EVERYthing—his kids, his house, his wealth and his health!), three of his friends came to be with him. For the first seven days, they got it right: “No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words” (Job 2:13). They said nada—they just sat in the dust with their buddy Job and let him have a good cry. (If they were girls, I’d imagine there’d be tissues and chocolate involved.) Later on though, those three friends had had enough of all that silent support and tried to explain to Job why all the rotten stuff was happening. They lectured him, they questioned him, and they told him he must have been hiding some sort of terrible sin for God to be punishing him like that. Finally Job had enough! I’m guessing he was pretty fed up when he said,
“I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air? What makes you keep on talking? I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you. But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief” (Job 16:1-5).
I love Job’s honesty! And I love his practical advice. As someone who knew the deepest bitterness of grief, Job said that the best thing a friend can do is encourage and try to take away their grief. Not lecture. Not accuse. Not patronize. Just love.
I can’t tell you how important love is in the equation of being there for your friend. Let’s be honest—no one has all the perfect words at all the perfect times! But anyone—including your friend—will be able to tell when someone cares about her and wants to lighten her load. And pray for her! Keep asking God for that miracle—either in sparing her mom’s life, or in helping your friend through the pain if He doesn’t.
If your friend is shy, she might not want to talk much about her feelings. And that’s okay! Maybe try saying something like, “I don’t know if you want to talk about the stuff with your mom, but just know that I’m here for you if you do. And if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s cool too. Just let me know how I can help you through this time, and I’ll do it!” If you show her that you’re there to encourage her and be there for her, she’ll know who to come to when she’s ready.
If she is open to your encouragement, remember,
“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense” (Proverbs 27:9).
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17).