Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Art of Being There

(Greg, Carrying grandson Georgie on the beach, when he needed a little comfort and rest)

Whether you need one, or want to BE one, there is definitely an art to comforting someone who is in pain. First step is to realize, at least 90% of the time, that you can't fix it. (Oh, do I have to fight my motherly instincts on this count.) Secondly, though it may not seem like much, just being a kindly listener and hand-holder is a near-angelic ministry. There's an art and skill to simply being there.

Henri Nouwen, one of the world's dearest priests, put it like this.
" When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

That is probably the most profound and best advice I've ever heard on how to befriend someone in their valley.

Though this old poem, below, may not win any profound awards (a bit sing-songy), I love the message it conveys on the subject at hand.

The Friend Who Just Stands By

When trouble comes your soul to try,
You love the friend who just "stands by."
Perhaps there's nothing he can do --
the thing is strictly up to you;
For there are troubles all your own,
And paths the soul must tread alone;
Time when love cannot smooth the road
Nor friendship life the heavy load,
But just to know you have a friend
Who will "stand by" until the end,
Whose sympathy though all endures,
Whose warm handclasp is always yours --
It helps, someday, to pull you through,
Although there's nothing he can do.
And so with fervent heart you cry,
"God bless the friend who just 'stands by'

B. Y. Williams

The Proverbs speak of a friend who "sticks closer than a brother" -- I call them Velcro Friends. Sometimes I think that life provides Friend Tests. Will your friend be there when you fail or fall or embarrass yourself? Will they stand by when you go through grief unspeakable? Will they keep watch and pray when your soul is in agony and doubt? If so, these are your Velcro Friends. They have sticking power.

And are you a Velcro Friend to a few precious people? I have to say, in observation, I have never seen a person who is more of a Velcro Friend to so many as my husband Greg. He's the ultimate Golden Retriever; he simply does not give up on people in a way that astounds and inspires me.

In short, a friend is not someone who cures; but simply someone who cares. But we should never underestimate the profound power of simply caring, or "simply standing by."


  1. I have read all of your books ( I even read the short story chicken hearted one) and just stumbled upon your blog by accident. I love LOVE love your style of writing.
    :) I am 28 and a mother to four small ones. I am also a writer myself. (Mostly poetry and short stories.) Anyway my email address is and I'm also on facebook. I would love to be able to just ask for your advice on a few things. You have a beautiful blog btw. Well I gotta go make breakfast for the clan...have a blessed day. ~Amber~

  2. Amber, thank you soo much! I am also on facebook! Feel free to "befriend me" there...
    my email is

    So nice to hear from you!