Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I was in college at the time and I had a friend who struggled with anorexia and bulimia. It was something she had battled the entire time I had known her.
One evening she stopped by my room, and she said, “I just threw up again.”
I took a deep breath.
I don’t know why she chose to come to me. But I knew that she trusted me. And I figured that if she was brave enough to tell somebody about her struggle, I could be brave enough to walk through it with her.
The problem was, I had no idea what to do.
Maybe for you, it was a friend who is depressed or suicidal. Maybe it’s a family member whose health is deteriorating. Maybe it’s someone with an addiction.
Most of us, throughout our lives, will have someone who is struggling with something really heavy. And we want to be there for them. We really do. But when we think about being able to help them or care for them, we feel completely lost and overwhelmed.
And I think a lot of that boils down to the fact that we try to do too much on our own.
Think back to episode 49, about finding your stretcher bearers. Sometimes, it is enough for us to have one or two close friends supporting us as we limp through a difficult season. But when we are laying flat out on a stretcher, unable to move or walk on our own, we need more support. We need a team of people who can help carry us to Jesus, carry us to healing.
It’s incredibly important to know when you need to call in additional stretcher bearers to help you carry a friend. And that’s why today, we are talking about being able to call in reinforcements. People who might be trained in different ways or who have more energy or time to support our friend.
Questions and Concerns
But let’s start with some questions and concerns that often come up around this.
Going back to my friend, it could have been easy to think, “Well, she came to me. She trusts me. So I have to be the one to help her.” We’ve worked so hard to build that relationship of trust with our friend or that woman who goes to church with us, and so when she finds the courage to come to us, we feel guilty if we say, “I can’t help you with this.”
Sometimes we worry that our friend will feel like we’ve betrayed her. That we’ve taken what she has entrusted to us and intentionally shared it with someone else. Someone they don’t know. Someone they don’t trust. Which is an honest concern. I’ll talk about one way we can address this here in a few minutes.
But on the other side of this, we also feel totally unequipped to handle something of this magnitude. This isn’t just a bad day. It’s not a short-term conflict. It’s bigger than that. It’s something she is truly battling. What do I say to my friend with an eating disorder? How can I help my friend who is thinking suicidal thoughts? What does it look like to support a young lady who is cutting herself? How can I help my family member who needs constant supervision and support?
These are heavy things. Too heavy for someone to carry on their own.
So how do we know when to call in reinforcements? And how do we do that in a way that is respectful and honoring to our loved one?
Identify Realistic and Reasonable Expectations
It starts by identifying realistic and reasonable expectations. I chose those two words intentionally.
Realistic. Not imagined. Not perceived. But realistic. Practical.
And reasonable. Logical. Not excessive, but within limits prescribed by reason. What makes sense?
Be honest about what you are actually able to do for your friend. Because you can’t do it all. And when you try to, or when you say you can, it only makes the situation worse.
Here are a few questions you could ask to help you determine what is realistic and reasonable for you in this season of your life—understanding that things might change as we go through different seasons.
One, what training do you have?
By training, I mean professional training that has taught you to care for others in some capacity. Some of you are nurses, some of you are home health care workers, some of you are counselors, some of you are hospice volunteers. Some of you might be volunteers for the Red Cross, someone who meets with families after house fires. Some of you know CPR or other life-saving techniques.
Back when I taught college classes, I took the safeTALK training from Living Works, which taught me to be what they call a suicide first responder. I was trained to talk with someone, to determine their risk of suicide, and how to connect them to someone who could help them.
Okay? So what kind of training do you have?
Two, in light of your other responsibilities and commitments, what can you honestly commit to?
Again, this will depend heavily on your season of life, whether you are already caring for littles or caring for an aging parent. It also depends on how many hours you work, or if you have to work or not.
Take stock of what you are already committed to doing and if any of that can be let go of for a season for you to be able to walk alongside your friend in a consistent and loving way.
Arris Charles talked about this in our conversation last week, how she wanted to be able to meet with women who had been trafficked and be a support for them, but how that meant she would have to be available for middle-of-the-night calls and outings. Since she had small children at home, she knew she didn’t have the capacity for that kind of role. So she found another way to help them.
What other responsibilities and commitments do you have right now?
And three, what can you handle physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
There are some situations that we can handle better than others. This might simply be the way we are wired or it might be because of past experiences.
Being of smaller build means that I cannot physically lift others very well. I also know that there are some medical things that I would have a hard time helping with or observing. Some of you may not do well around needles or other things of that nature.
But we also need to consider what we can handle emotionally and spiritually. Especially if you are a sensitive person. Sometimes we aren’t in a place to help others through their grief because we’re still consumed by our own. Sometimes we aren’t in a place to support others through their depression because we feel like it’s going to take us down, too.
Maybe it’s more of the person who’s involved. Seeing children hurt in any way, shape, or form is really hard for me. Not that I wouldn’t help them, but man, that would take a lot out of me.
So those three questions again are, (1) What training have you received, (2) In light of your other responsibilities and commitments, what can you honestly commit to, and (3) what can you handle physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
Tips for Calling in Reinforcements
Now, there are a lot of scenarios we could run through, but I want you to consider both short-term and long-term situations where we might need to care for our friend. And I want to offer you a few tips for what it might look like to call in reinforcements.
If it’s a short-term situation, like where my friend who struggled with an eating disorder came to me and confessed she had just thrown up, then the best thing I can invite you to do is to offer her the ministry of your presence. Stay with her until you can safely entrust her to someone else.
In that situation, I encouraged her to call our Resident Advisor and let her know. I knew this was someone she trusted, someone she had been talking with about it, and so it made sense to me to have that be the adult we talked to.
But notice I also didn’t make that call for her. I encouraged her to do it herself. Now, if she hadn’t have done it, I would have, but that gets into where we feel like we are betraying others. If the other person is able to make the call herself, to ask for additional help and support, that is the best-case scenario. Really encourage her to do that.
But also realize that I stayed with her while she did. And that’s where the ministry of presence can be so powerful. By your very presence, you can help give courage and love and support to someone else to do something that is very hard. You are gentle and patient when you can be, lovingly firm when you need to be. But you are there.
I sat with my friend while she made the phone call, and I actually ended up sitting with her the rest of the night. But I let our RA handle it from there. She was my reinforcement. She was someone else who could help carry my friend.
If this is more of a long-term situation, where you will be regularly called on to care for your friend or loved one, the biggest tip I could offer you is to know your role. You are not their counselor. You are not their doctor. You might be a caregiver, someone who is helping them. You might be a friend, someone they can talk to.
But you cannot do it all. Don’t try to do it all. And don’t try to do something all the time. You cannot be a caregiver 100% of the time. You need others who can help them, and help you, and give you a break.
So find others who can help. Help them explore who can help carry them on their stretcher. Do they need a doctor on their team? Do they need a counselor? Do they need other people who can help provide in-home care? Do they want to join a support group with others going through a similar situation? Do they need to consider a treatment program? Do they need a housekeeper for a little while? Someone to help watch their kids? What kind of support would be most helpful to them right now?
Love them enough to help them get they need. You don’t have to put the team together for them, necessarily, but you can help them brainstorm ideas or talk through it with them.
And, again, remember that you cannot do it all. My conversation with Rayna Neises might be helpful here. She describes how she had a team of 13 people helping to care for her dad as he battled Alzheimer’s, including her sister, her aunt, housekeepers, and home health care workers. You can listen to that in episode 53.
Situations That Require Additional Support
Now, there are several situations where we are legally required, at least where I live, to report situations to the police or other professionals. And it typically revolves around, are they doing harm to themselves or to someone else?
One situation is child abuse. If I see a child being abused, I have to report that to child services. And you guys, that is such a hard phone call to make, even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what you suspect is true. It’s hard to call, it’s hard to describe what you have seen, whether that’s bruises on the child or emotional trauma they are exhibiting. It’s hard to keep records of what you’ve seen because you just want it to go away. You want the child to be safe. You can’t imagine someone hurting them. And you know that with that call, that child’s life is going to be disrupted, even though it is for their good. But you still have to make the call. You have to call in reinforcements and not try to handle it on your own.
Another situation is if you believe someone is a danger to themselves, if you have reasonable suspicion that someone is going to hurt themselves. Again, in college, I had a friend who had a reason to believe a friend of hers was going to harm himself. She was beside herself, didn’t know what to do. So she came to me. Again, I knew this was over my head, so we got a hold of one of the student development staff members that she trusted and he called the police, and they did a wellness visit to check on this friend of hers. I sat with her until we knew he was okay. This was not a situation I could handle on my own, and honestly, it’s something we were required to report.
Knowing Who to Call for Reinforcement
Knowing who to call in for these kinds of reinforcements is important. If possible, let it be someone they already know and trust. In both examples I’ve shared, both of my friends were able to reach out to an adult they knew and trusted.
For example, maybe they already have a counselor they are working with and like and trust. Encourage them to call their counselor. Maybe it’s a small group leader. You can ask them directly if there’s someone you can call together, or just think through what you know about them and suggest somebody.
If they don’t have anyone like that, try to call someone you trust—your pastor, your own counselor, your doctor’s office.
Some situations will require you to call Child Protective Services or the police. Others, you might need to call their doctor or an ambulance. There’s also the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or other crisis hotlines you can call, or even a local number that provides community resources available, should someone need housing or food or clothing or help with utilities.
It really just depends on the situation, but I’m sure that when you are in that moment, either God will bring someone to mind or you’ll have a way to take care of the situation short-term until you can find a more long-term solution. And you’ll also know when you might need to step in and make the call for them, when they are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. Not all situations require this right away, but, again, God will be there to guide you through that.
As we end, I want you to know this is not the know-all, be-all of helping others in crisis. It’s meant to help guide you in situations where you are feeling overwhelmed or ill-equipped to help a friend in need. Please consider the situation, hold it in prayer, and continue learning all you can to be able to support others who might, indeed, be in a crisis situation.
I also want to offer two words of encouragement to you.
First, make sure that you get the support and care you need as you care for your friend in this season. That’s going to look different for all of us, but it can look like going to counseling, having a day off every week, having a good friend to talk to, or going for a walk every day. It’s probably going to look like a combination of things. But it is so incredibly important for you to care for you, too. Otherwise, you truly won’t be able to help care for your loved ones when they need you.
Even if it’s a short-term situation, where you are staying with someone for an hour or so, it’s still really important for you to take time to process that, to pray or journal, to talk to your own counselor, and maybe take a walk or get some sort of exercise to help you work it out in your body.
Second, know that God will equip you to do the work He has called you to do. In 1 Peter 4:10-11, it says, “Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.” God will give you the strength and energy and endurance and wisdom you need to care for your friends. He truly will. But sometimes that means having the strength to ask for others to help.
I know it’s hard when someone looks to you to be their sole friend, their sole caregiver, their sole support in a difficult situation. It’s too much. It’s a burden that we cannot carry alone. So know how to love your friend well and when to bring in reinforcements who can help you carry your friend on her stretcher.
Okay, so as I finished drafting this episode, I saw the latest episode from my friend Laura Howe of The Care Ministry Podcast, and it’s called “7 signs that it’s time to refer someone you are supporting.” Can you believe it? I’ve already listened to it, and it’s so good and further emphasizes how we can know when we need to call in others for additional support. She also has some really good insight to share when it comes to that safety issue. So if you’re interested in learning more, especially if you’re on a care team or are a ministry leader, you can find it on The Care Ministry Podcast or just click the link in the show notes below.
My friends, I know it was a bit of a heavier topic today, and I’m so grateful that you are here with me. Because that shows me just how much you care for those around you who are hurting. Thank you for loving your neighbor well. Please let me know how I can support you. You can reach out to me at email@example.com. Remember, my name is spelled K-A-R-I.
Okay, my friends, that’s all for today. Until next time…
- Episode 49: Finding Your Stretcher Bearers: The People Who Can Help Carry You Through a Difficult Season
- Episode 53: Seeing the Unseen in the Caregiving Journey with Certified Coach Rayna Neises
- Episode 58: When Life Feels Purposeless with Life Purpose Coach Arris Charles
- Courageous Care Masterclass, audio training from Kari Bartkus
- The Care Ministry Podcast, with host Laura Howe: 7 Signs That It’s Time to Refer Someone You Are Supporting
- The Caregiver Toolbox, course from Laura Howe (affiliate link)
- Finding Hope in Helping, course from Laura Howe (affiliate link)
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