As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we are going to experience an increased number of situational and emotional crises in the weeks and months ahead. Isolation, economic repercussions, mental health deterioration, and many other factors mean there will be more “red flag” situations in our lives and the lives of our friends.
The focus of this article is how to be a good friend when someone you care about is experiencing a situational or emotional crisis. Implied in this objective is the presupposition that being a friend is different from being a police officer, counselor, social worker or EMT. We are grateful for all those professions. Any one of these may be helpful to our friend in need. But our role, as a friend, is different from what each of these individuals do. If we are going to be a good friend, we need to both remember this and be content with it.
Now, let’s look at five ways to be a good friend during the COVID-19 crisis.
First, be connected enough to know of the crisis.
One of the great things about friendship is that it is pre-existing relationships. Friends don’t need to “take a history.” A friend is aware of the things that are most important to us and how we respond to hard times. A friend knows our job and common stressors. Being a good friend gives us the kind of awareness that allows us to have a sense for what could be upsetting before things get “that bad.”
Being a friend gives us permission to ask, “How are things going?” without our friend having to fill out intake forms or schedule an appointment. As a friend, we don’t need a reason to check in. During a time of social crisis, we should check on our friends.
Make a list of the people you should call. Instead of scrolling through Instagram, scroll through the contacts on your phone and make sure you haven’t neglected someone you should touch base with. Crises that come to light because they crash are the messiest and most complex. Checking in allows an emerging crisis to be disclosed instead of staying hidden until it erupts.
Second, ask intentional questions.
Don’t start a non-crisis call as a crisis call. A generic, “How are you doing?” and “What have you found to entertain yourself with?” is fine. Catch up as you normally would. You’re calling a friend, after all, you know what you normally talk about. Do that and enjoy it.
But during the conversation, be sure to ask a few intentional questions that show a greater depth of concern.
- How can I be praying for you?
- What things are hardest for you?
- What do you anticipate being hardest if this lasts longer?
- How have you been affected by the changes?
- What has made you afraid, angry, or sad about all that is going on?
Intentional questions are an invitation. When something is bothering us and we’re talking to a friend, most of us wonder, “Do they have time for me to talk-talk right now? Are they open to me bringing this up? Is this a good time?” An intentional question followed by a patient, compassionate pause says, “Yes.”
If your friend begins to share something weighty, just listen. Recognize there is great value in getting the thoughts outside of their own head. Not being alone with the concern is a significant form of relief.
Third, stay in the role of friend.
When listening we may begin to feel the pressure to be more than a friend. This is the point where the tide turns in our own soul, we start to feel overwhelmed, and we are prone to succumb to all-or-nothing thinking. “Either I need to be able to make this all better or I need to stifle the conversation and not resume it.”
What does a friend do?
- Empathize: Our friend should feel that what impacts them, impacts us (Romans 12:15). We help stabilize by responding with comparable emotions at a lower decibel level. Empathy says, “You’re not alone in this.”
- Support: We assist in the ways that we can. The nature of the crisis will impact the type of care. The level of support would be captured in the words “assist” or “offset” rather than “remedy” or “resolve.” Friends lighten the load rather than taking the full load on themselves.
- Share perspective: During a crisis, the problem seems huge and everything else seems tiny. A friend can be close enough to the storm to hear the thunder but have the objectivity to help us be more proportional in our response.
- Affirm: Your friend is showing the courage of vulnerability by talking to you. Affirm this. In a crisis, we often wonder if we are doing anything right. Your words of affirmation help offset these fears.
At this point, it is helpful to remember that no friend (singular) is the church (plural). Part of being a friend is being “one of many.” If your friend tries to isolate you with their problem, that is a red flag. They are asking you to be more than a friend. They are asking you to be the church and possibly more than that (see the next point).
Ask another intentional question if the crisis doesn’t alleviate through listening and being a supportive friend, “Who else can we involve to build a care team and ensure that you have the guidance that you need?” As a friend, you likely know other close friends, small group members, or pastors to suggest. If your friend wants something more private or needs expert guidance, consider the fourth point.
Fourth, encourage connection with the relevant professional.
One way you remain in the friend role is to encourage your friend to connect with relevant professionals who fill a “more than a friend” role. A dentist who gives advice about stomach ulcers is not being a “really good dentist” for being willing to be “more than a dentist.” The same is true for us as friends.
- If your friend is experiencing abuse, call the relevant hotline with them and support them through the call.
- Domestic Violence: 1-800-799-7233
- Child Abuse: Your local Child Protective Service (CPS)
- Sexual Abuse: 1-800-656-4673
- If your friend is facing a financial crisis, offer to walk with them through the process of getting unemployment benefits and consulting with a financial coach.
- If your friend is experiencing an inability to regulate their emotions, encourage them to talk with a counselor. Offer to be an advocate in counseling if that would be helpful.
The point is, you are a “good friend” by being “just a friend” and not allowing yourself to be pressured into being “more than a friend.” If you need help identifying the signs that you are moving into a “more than a friend” role, here is a resource to help. If you need help identifying a life struggle is more severe than friendship-care alone is likely to be helpful, here is a resource to help.
Fifth, continue in the friendship role of character formation and support.
It is often when we need to make a recommendation to pursue a professional helper, that we back away as friends. Benefiting from a professional doesn’t mean that we need friends any less.
What does that mean functionally? It means you continue to listen and pray for your friend, while possibly, beginning a study together to look at the character formation element of their life struggle. Examples of this kind of study might include:
Don’t let the crisis be the exclusive focus of your interactions. If you study and discuss a segment per week, this will allow you to stay up to speed on how they’re doing, get an update on what they’re learning from the relevant professional, and allow you to pray for them. It will show that you were willing to be a good friend even when you insisted on not being “more than a friend.”
These are hard times. We are going to need good friends during these times more than ever. It would be easy for the emotional complexities of the crises we’re facing to cause us to either shy away from getting involved or get caught in an enmesh-and-abandon pattern of relating (that is, getting over involved, then getting overwhelmed, and ending the relationship). I hope this article provides guidance on how we can be good friends to one another amid uncertain times.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brad Hambrick serves as the pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., and as assistant professor of Biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article originally appeared at bradhambrick.com. Reprinted with permission.)