Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I’m your host, Kari Bartkus, and this podcast is an extension of the work I do through my business Love Does That. In our Gift Shop, you will find encouragement and sympathy gifts that you can send to a friend who is going through a difficult time, whether they are grieving the loss of a loved one, going through a divorce, or struggling with anxiety or PTSD. And guys, I make those gifts in a spirit of prayer. I pray as I craft each one and as I send them out. It’s part of my ministry, part of my way of making sure you and your loved ones know you are not alone in your time of grief. You can check out our shop at lovedoesthat.org/shop.
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Okay, so on to today’s topic. We are actually starting a kind of mini-series where we are going to talk about how to respond in different situations. You know, some of those awkward situations that happen when we’re trying to encourage and care for our friends who are hurting.
We’re starting with the question, “How do I respond when someone asks me about my friend?” Specifically, your hurting friend. The one others know is going through something.
This scenario happens a lot. To be honest, others in the church or in your group of friends genuinely care and want to know what’s going on. But maybe they feel it’s too awkward to ask the person themselves.
So let’s put this into a scenario so it won’t get too confusing on us.
Let’s say your friend Megan is struggling with post-partum depression. She’s a young mom with three kids ages 3, 2, and a newborn. Her husband is working a lot of hours due to the crazy world we live in right now, and she is often left on her own to manage the kids and household. And with that many littles, it can get hectic and overwhelming.
Megan is one of your closest friends and so you are one that she has chosen to confide in and share her struggles with. You receive a lot of text messages from her during those stressful moments, and you’re at her house a few times a week to drop off some meals and play with the kids for an hour or so, so she can get a shower or some rest.
You know that on top of having so many littles, Megan hasn’t quite been herself since giving birth to her third child. She’s crying a lot and isn’t able to sleep at night, even when her littles are all tucked into bed. She doesn’t seem as close to this baby as she was to her others, and it breaks your heart to see her so distanced from her children.
But you are there to help her through this season. You know she’s seeing a counselor and is really trying to take care of herself and her family.
Maybe Megan is able to get herself and her family to church on Sunday mornings, which, actually, would be a huge step and accomplishment for her, requiring a lot of courage and vulnerability. You’re so proud of her.
It’s Sunday morning and after the worship service, Patty pulls you aside and asks, “How is Megan doing?”
And you pause. Because now you’re stuck in a hard place. You know that Patty is asking this sincerely, that she cares about Megan and wants to know how to support her. It’s not just for gossip or to be “in the know.” And you know that Patty has been there for you before. You know her and trust her.
But you also know that Megan is pretty private. And that she trusted you with information she doesn’t freely hand out to others. And you value that friendship with her. You also know that she likes Patty. Would she be okay with you sharing information with her?
How do you respond?
I’ve been in this situation so many times, and I bet you have, too. The details might be different, but the question is the same. What do I say? How much do I share?
So here a couple of guidelines I’d like to give you for when you find yourself in this situation.
First, has your friend explicitly told you that you can share information about her welfare with others?
I always assume that things were spoken to me in confidence. So unless you and Megan have somehow worked out an agreement that you would serve as a type of spokesperson for her, a “buffer”, per se, between her and others who are asking about her—unless you have this agreement or she has very directly said that she is okay with you sharing with others—keep it to yourself.
While some friends of ours will post things on social media, they can do so with a limited group of people. People they have already filtered and chosen. People they trust. So while we see a post from them, others may not. Don’t assume that it’s public information just because you see it posted.
Maybe you even need to have a conversation with your friend about what’s okay to share with others and what’s not. Be very clear about this. And error on the side of caution. I’d rather have a friend tell me, “Oh, you could have told her that!” than “What did you tell her!?!?”
I know it’s hard sometimes to keep information to yourself. But your friend has trusted you, and if you damage that trust by sharing what you shouldn’t, you will hurt your relationship with her. So resist the urge to share. Be that safe place for her to turn to.
Second, how can you invite the question-asker (in this case, Patty) to go directly to your friend instead?
While I know the context of Matthew 18 is being sinned against or having a conflict with another believer, I believe we can apply a similar principle here. Matthew 18:15 says, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense.” So I think when we have a friend who is hurting, we ought to go directly to them instead of asking someone else—unless, again, they have designated someone to be their buffer or spokesperson.
Plus, there are verses about slandering and gossiping—even meddling. In fact, 1 Peter 4:15, in the ESV, says, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” You see that? Peter puts meddling right up there with murder and stealing. The NLT version puts it this way: “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs.”
Even though we know, most likely, that Patty is asking from a sincere heart and truly wants to help Megan, we also know that we are not the ones to have that conversation with her about how Megan is struggling.
So what do we say instead? You could say something like this:
“Patty, thank you for asking. I’m glad that you care so much about Megan. I bet it would mean so much to her if you checked in with her and asked how she was doing. In fact, let’s go find her now and we can talk to her together.”
Or maybe instead of talking to her right then, you encourage Patty to send Megan a message later to check in. Or to send her a card. Or to give her a call. Whatever you feel Megan would be most comfortable with.
Answering like this shows Patty that she isn’t necessarily wrong for asking the question, but that she is asking the wrong person. It’s a loving, but firm, way to guide her in the right direction.
Now, not everyone will be comfortable with that. Not everyone is truly ready to talk directly to the person who is hurting. Because, let’s admit it, it can be awkward and tense and we don’t always know what to say in response.
But that’s up to Patty to decide. You let her choose if she is ready to have that conversation with Megan yet. To enter into Megan’s pain and help her walk through this season. Meanwhile, you protect your trust and relationship with Megan, so that whatever Patty decides, you know that Megan still has you and she knows she can trust you.
We’ve gone through this scenario knowing that Patty is trustworthy and genuinely cares about Megan and what is going on with her. But how do you respond when you feel someone asks you more for gossip? I don’t want to say that you need to judge someone else’s motives, but we do need to be discerning.
While I feel the same response we gave to Patty could be fitting here, as well, you may also want to consider answering a little differently. A little more… directly. “You know, I appreciate you asking, but it’s not really my place to share that information. But I’ll let Megan know you asked about her.” And just leave it at that. Let that person decide whether or not they will approach Megan directly about it, or if they’ll just walk away. Usually if they don’t approach Megan directly, it’s a pretty good sign they aren’t ready to genuinely be there for her. And that’s okay. But it does give you a sense of where they are at when it comes to supporting and encouraging Megan at this time.
I know it takes courage to respond like this, but you can do it. Do it for your friend.
If you need to, here’s a verse to hold onto to help you keep confidence in these kinds of situations. Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” Which one do you want to be? Do you want to be a gossip? Or do you want to be a trustworthy woman?
Determine here and now to be the trustworthy friend that others can depend on. The safe friend who can keep a confidence.
Next week, we’ll continue this mini-series about how to respond in different situations as we talk about how to respond when a friend won’t let you help.
Until next time…
- “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense.” (Matthew 18:15 NLT)
- “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs.” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT)
- “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13 NLT)