It's remarkably easy to give someone the impression that we care about them. We all know the proper protocol: paint our faces in the right shade of empathy with just a stroke of melancholy, give hugs when the moment demands it, promise prayers, leave our friend with that oh-so-vague offer of, "If you ever need anything . . ." before going about our lives and promptly forgetting.
I know, it sounds callous when worded that way. Maybe it is. Or maybe it's true. This phenomenon has been scuttling around my mind lately, and what better way to confront it than with a blog post that might convict you, readers, the way it has me?
It's true that there is a proper way to respond to someone enduring a struggle. Of course we're going to display empathy and love, affirmation and prayer. Of course we're going to offer ourselves as supporters and burden-bearers in whatever ways we are needed. Those are all wonderful things—I want to make that clear. But depending on their execution . . . they can also be entirely superficial.
Bear with me, here. Anyone can put on an empathetic face. Anyone can administer hugs. Anyone can offer prayers or hypothetical help, knowing full well that the friend in need will probably never ask for it. Even prayer can be a cop-out, especially if we use it as a one-size-fits-all response to others' pain, only to forget or push it off or pray once and then get up from our knees having proudly checked the "Good Friend" box.
James puts it this way:
"Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?" (James 2:15-16)
I've realized that I am more guilty of this than I ever knew. I try to be quick to show support to those in need, but sometimes my efforts might be motivated by a desire to feel or look like a good friend, rather than genuine love for that person. It's a difficult reality to confront, especially since we love our friends! Of course we wish they weren't struggling or facing a period of pain! But as humans, it's easy for us to compartmentalize the pain of others when it doesn't affect us directly. That's why we must push ourselves into action even when our first instinct is to offer only the easiest, most convenient forms of support we can.
When you and I are in pain—really in pain, and we all have been—what kind of love do we crave from those around us? Is it an off-handed "Get well soon," or a couple of sympathetic crying-faces crammed between tone-deaf memes? Or is it the deliberate, active kind of love that hunts us down, looks us in the eye, and goes out of the way to be there for us?
Let's be there for someone today. Let's promise to pray and actually do it, not just once but, actively, diligently, for the long haul. Let's give someone a call or a text, but not let them off the hook with a vague, "I'm okay" if we know they want to share more but don't know how. Let's be listeners who pay attention, prayer warriors who don't back down, crying shoulders who want all the feels—snot and tears and all.
Christ got down in the mud and blood and pain of suffering people to reach them with his love, and we need to do the same, to truly love as Christ loved on earth. Purposefully, relentlessly, sometimes inconveniently, but most of all—ACTIVELY.
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