As I hang up the phone from a talk with a friend who I hadn’t spoken with in months, I smile at the sense of renewal I feel. Nothing can replace a good laugh with someone who knows you well and loves you anyway.
A Great Gift
Friendships are one of the greatest gifts that we have been given, yet statistics show that we spend less and less time with friends (Roper Startch Worldwide, Inc.).
Our calendars are often filled with the basics to get through each day, and the few moments we have to ourselves we use to rejuvenate. “I know I'm probably not the greatest friend,” says Sharon. “I don't call often. I find it hard to find the time to get together with friends. When we do go get coffee, I try to avoid bringing up my illness, and yet I also have a desire to share that part of my life, especially the good news.”
Friends can be one of the greatest blessings in our lives. They keep us going when we need encouragement. They listen when we need to vent. They celebrate our joys and comfort us during our struggles. If we are fortunate, we will be able to keep these friendships strong throughout our lives.
Friendships can also be stressful, however, when a medical condition comes between you.
“My friends drive me crazy!” shares Barbara. “All they ever do is try to get me out of the house when I need to rest and tell me I should be taking it easy when I want to go do something.”
When we have a chronic illness, it can be a difficult thing for a friend to understand our changing lifestyle. Perhaps you aren't able to participate in the activities you once did together. Maybe she thinks if you just tried a little harder you could beat the illness. “You've got to fight this!” is something I've heard on more than one occasion. Despite these friends' good intentions, it puts me on the defense, trying to prove that I am fighting in the best way I know how.
Use Words If Necessary
Sherry has lupus and fibromyalgia, and although she was once very athletic, she is no longer able to exercise the way she did before her illnesses. She continued to walk, however, so her walking buddy wouldn't continue to give her a bad time saying things like, “you need to work out the kinks,” “no pain, no gain,” and “you can make it just a little bit farther.” She suffered from severe pain for a couple of days after her walks, and was annoyed with herself for not listening to her instinct and explaining the situation to her friend. Unfortunately, she eventually lost both a friend and a walking partner. If she had been able to explain to her friend her new physical limitations, they could have found other things to do together to sustain their friendship.
In the Bible we find that Job was being tested by God and suffering from losing his stock, his servants, his home, and even his family. Finally, he was covered with sores from his head to his toes. Job's friends, hearing of his tragedies, rushed to his side to offer condolences. “They set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him…Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great was his suffering” (Job 2:11-13).
Can you imagine sitting on the ground beside your friend while he is covered with sores and not saying one word for an entire week? (Some of us wouldn't have been able to wait seven minutes!) They respected his suffering, however, and wanted him to know that they cared and that they were there if he needed them.
Don't Know What To Say Pray
Friends can know exactly what we need sometimes, and we don't know how we would make it without them. There are other times they may not say what we need to hear or be as supportive as we would like.
After seven days, Job started becoming frustrated with his situation and he started…well, whining. “Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest” (Job 3: 11, 13). His friends decided enough was enough and they were going to start giving him some advice.
Most of us can relate with Job because we have been on the receiving end of some advice we didn't want. Maybe we told the other person “thanks, but no thanks.” Maybe we've even told them to mind their own business. Perhaps they gave us some encouragement that we felt was superficial or we thought, “That's easy for you to say. You're not in my shoes!” That's how Job felt, and he straightforwardly told his friends what he thought.
“I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place. I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you” (Job 16:1-4.)
Job was frustrated with his friends, and he shared his feelings with them (although quite harshly). Do you know what happens at the end of the book? God tells Job's three friends that they were out of line in what they said and they should sacrifice a burnt offering and have Job pray for them.
Job prayed for his friends and God honored the prayer and the friendship continued to remain strong.
Friends can say things that are frustrating to us, but they often don't mean any harm or even realize their comments may be hurtful to us. The best thing is to be open and honest with them. Just as they must learn to accept our lifestyle changes, we must learn to be flexible and not take things personally. Most often they are just trying to say the right thing, they just don't know what that is.
Lisa Copen is the founder and director of Rest Ministries. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is the author of When Chronic Illness Enters Your Life Bible Study.