Help Through Hard Times: Making a True Difference

A few months ago I wrote an article for, a group dedicated to providing encouragement for those enduring life’s challenges.  I want to share it with you in hopes it might be a blessing to you as well. —Max


As a pastor for more than three decades, I’ve heard more than a few stories of heartache and hurt. Health scares, financial woes, relationship valleys: everyone I know is going through a hard time to some extent, and probably everyone you know is as well.

So what should we do when people share their turbulent times with us? Here are a few dos and don’ts.

Do tell them they’re not facing this time alone. Offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Be available to run errands, care for kids, or provide a meal.

Don’t make the situation about you. It’s tempting to share your personal story—or that of a loved one—but this makes the conversation all about you, not about the person facing turbulent times. Focus on the person who is hurting.

Do urge them to make a plan. Hard times are a petri dish for brainless decisions, so help make a plan for getting through. And then help them stick to it.

Don’t enable foolish behavior. If your friend is in debt, a shopping spree won’t help the situation. An affair won’t mend a struggling marriage, and you can’t fix a drug addiction with more drugs. Stupid won’t fix stupid.

Do encourage forgiveness. Forgiveness can take time, but it’s the key that releases us from a prison of bitterness. As long as someone’s trying to forgive, they are forgiving.

Don’t advise revenge.  If someone’s been wronged, the desire for retribution can be hard to ignore. Revenge can feel sweet for the moment, but then what? The after effects of lashing out won’t help anyone get through the pain. It will only prolong the hurt and break more hearts.

Don’t promise a quick resolution. While we all wish a cancer would go into remission tomorrow or that pain would vanish next week, that may not be the case. Remain positive without being naïve.

Do look for the hidden good. When the time is right, look for positive outcomes that might be found in the mess, like restored relationships, a renewed zest for life, or wisdom for the future. All are possible effects of turbulent times. Help a friend focus on these silver linings when they appear.

As you have helped friends and family through challenging time (or as they have helped you), what have been the most effective and appreciated actions? Please share in the comment section below.