Everybody loves a story with a hero’s victorious ending. Folks rally around watching with sustained interest dramatic battles between good guys and bad guys, or the patient battling an illness laying claim on his body, or the underdog standing up to a corrupt entity. We love it when, after the blood, sweat, and tears, justice is served and good prevails. We live vicariously through the hero, feeling triumphant interiorly – although we did nothing more than watch a movie or read a book. We identify with the hero precisely because we all struggle against evils in our lives, and it is right that we should wish to prevail over them. We make the hero our own because we want to rise victorious, too.
Reality, however, will find the sufferer standing mostly alone. Folks evaporate into thin air when the going gets tough. When the suffering is real and especially if it is a prolonged crisis, there are a blessed few who will stay the course alongside the suffering individual, no matter how bravely he battles for his cause. Hence the deep meaning of the verse, “He that is a friend loveth at all times: and a brother is proved in distress” Proverbs 17:17.
It’s no surprise that supporters are hard to come by for the long term crisis. Everybody has their own battles to contend with, after all, and cannot possibly give all the support necessary to those in a long term crisis, precisely because of the chronic nature of the battle. It is distressing to see the poor in their poverty, the sick in their illness, the hyper-vigilant in their worried brow and spinning thoughts, the mourners in their sorrow. Yet, not all are suffering the intense heavy crosses of some.
There are a significant percentage of people who are living day to day in survival mode, in unthinkable and unimaginable difficulties. Some are permanently disabled, some are dying slow deaths, some are deeply depressed, and some are victims of abuse and torture. No matter the particular situation, the purpose of this article is to create awareness and understanding of those in long-term crisis.
Usually when there is a short term need, folks will supply the need for meals, housecleaning, or babysitting until the crisis begins to settle, and those suffering can stand on their own two feet again. Sadly, however, when a crisis drags on week after week, month after month, and even year after year, the novelty wears off and supporters disappear – rightly or wrongly – leaving the sufferer alone. This is doubly devastating to the sufferer, since their battle has not ended, and they still need the support of others.
Some explanation of what the long-suffering person is experiencing will prove helpful to those who wish to assist him, since it can be impossible to understand without ever having experienced such a crisis. This will be coupled with some advice in dealing with him. This role of supporter is not for the faint of heart, and is best fulfilled by a few dedicated individuals rather than just one person. . “I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak and to remember the word of the Lord Jesus, how he said: It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive” Acts 20:35.
Firstly, reject any and all preconceived notions you may have of what the sufferer ought to be doing. Until and unless you know them intimately enough to understand every food item and allergy, every dollar and debt, every doctor and lab test, every court case and legal action, every background story and relationship, every conversation and threat, and every heartfelt fear, you do not know enough to judge this person. Period. Either leap in selflessly and help, withholding judgments, or stay away. Let God be the judge of the man in need. If you’re in doubt of his sincerity or need, either take the time to get to know him and see for yourself, or stay away. Ask for clarifications if necessary. Do not further injure the sufferer by presumptions, inaccurate piecing of information, belief in hearsay, and the like. Never blame the sufferer for his situation. He needs a friend – several, really, so that no one person is exhausted by single-handedly supporting him.
Secondly, accept the fact that the long-sufferer has likely been on his own for awhile and as a result, has developed some unconventional ways of coping and handling. These contribute to his ability to feel some degree of aptitude and success in surviving. He may seem to be uncooperative or resistant, but really, he is only afraid. To him, more change means more instability, and God knows he has had enough of that. His routines and apparent independence in the light of total helplessness looks like an oxymoron, but it’s understandable. Unless these are really detrimental coping mechanisms, allow him to keep them for now. As he recovers, he will be more receptive to standardized ways of dealing with things. Consider that he probably understands his situation with such great detail that his “unconventional” methods may in fact be the best methods. With all he has been through, he may not even seem like a good friend back to you. Don’t be daunted; the long sufferer needs friends, and he will hopefully heal with time and assistance.
Thirdly, don’t presume the sufferer will ask for help if he needs any. The perpetual taxing of mind, heart, and soul which is co morbid with long term suffering frequently causes short term memory loss, confusion, inability to make decisions, poor decision making, heightened emotional sensitivity, depression, and sleeplessness. (A few nights without sleep disrupt the cognitive abilities of people who are not in crisis situations; in those long suffering persons, the effects are greater and more damaging, not only biologically, but also because of the natural consequences of mistakes made as a result of the above effects.) Therefore, although much help may be needed, the sufferer may not be able to formulate requests. He may be afraid to presume upon your generosity, or afraid of offending or rejection. Try to anticipate his needs, and realize the most basic things are probably wanting. Be proactive, thoughtful, and sympathetic by offering specific helps. “When is your mortgage and electric due? Do you have enough to pay them?”, “When can I pick up your laundry to wash for you?” and “I’m bringing supper for tonight. Would you like chicken or lasagna?” are good sample questions which do not require the sufferer to think too hard. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Multiple choice questions with few possible answers are easiest. Single statements such as, “I’ll drive you both to the hospital on Monday so you can sit in the backseat with your son and comfort him” are also a great way to help.
Fourthly, be morally supportive. That comes in many forms, from genuine compliments to optimistic exclamations and positive actions. Provide him with a CD of his favorite music, or a magazine of his interests. Help him overcome the continuous onslaught of stress with something beautiful, amazing, or interesting. Nourish his imagination and his heart, rekindle his dreams. It takes time to see success, but every exposure to moral support builds upon the previous action, and the cumulative effect is the creation or awakening of a place inside himself where the sufferer can find a little escape, a little solace, and a little hope. Also, offer to pray with him, but most of all, pray for him. Pray that he will find relief from his suffering, or renewed strength and hope in the face of suffering.
The greatest story with a hero’s victorious ending is that of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. His via dolorosa and crucifixion found so few near Him in stark contrast to the crowds who followed Him during his public ministry. Let us recall our duty of charity to our fellow man, and extend a helping hand to those who are suffering a long term crisis. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, let us “see the face of Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.” Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s stop watching and reading from our comfy positions, and take on a role in the reality of another’s battle against his evil. Where we exercise charity, we overcome evil, and then we really are heroes. \”Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good\” Romans 12:21.