Q: How do I respond when my friend has a label?
A: This is a question that I often get either in person or through the website. It is usually worded in a variety of ways. Each question is somewhat similar; although, each person and situation are unique. Regardless of whatever label your friend receives, your goals are the same. I am going to use a series of questions to help you consider how you respond when your friend either receives a diagnosis from a doctor from the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, )
What is your role?
At the end of the day, your role is simply to be a friend. The Bible gives all kinds of advice on what friendship looks like as it is played out in day-to-day living. Solomon reminded us that, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (prov 17:17). You are not the doctor, did not make the diagnosis, and do not function in that role. Your goal is not to provide a different opinion, suggest a different diagnosis, or suggest a different protocol for treatment. If your friend asks you questions about his or her diagnosis or treatment, you can always answer the question; however, at the end of the day, the issue of diagnosis and treatment is between your friend and his or her doctor. You need to focus on what friends do best.
What does a friend do?
A Friend Loves and Serves
When Jesus described the greatest commandments (matt 22:38-40), He said to love God first and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commitment we make to our friends. We want to love them well. How do we do that? We love best by serving them (Gal 5:13). We seek to find ways that serves them selflessly. If in fact they are going through a difficult season of life, we must ask how it is possible to serve them best. How can you love as you would want to be loved?
In the Bible when Peter was helping Christians know how to respond to life in a hostile world, he suggested the following responses:
8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)
In a world that is rough and under the curse of sin, look for ways to demonstrate compassion, love, tenderheartedness, and courtesy. Find ways to become a blessing for your friend. You can begin here.
A Friend Observes and Responds
What does a label say? Essentially, all a label says is that your friend is going through some kind of suffering. In a world where bodies and minds do not work the way they were meant to work, where all mankind suffers under the curse of sin, and where each one of us, at times, goes through suffering, we must all realize that suffering is a part of life. No one signs up for suffering. Your friend is no more excited about living under some level of suffering than you would be.
I have found Paul’s instruction to be helpful as I try to be a good friend to those who are going through suffering. Paul writes:
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thess 5:14)
Here Paul makes clear that each person goes through seasons of struggle (here identified as unruly, fainthearted, and weak). The fainthearted person is the one who is struggling doing what God wants him or her to do for a season because of fear, timidity, and possibly uncertainty. This person wants to respond in God-honoring ways to life but needs some help, comfort, and encouragement. Literally, the term in the original language means small-souled. Any of us can have a time where this happens.
The weak person is a very general term which could mean a physical weakness, mental weakness, emotional weakness, or spiritual weakness. Here the goal is to uphold this person. To uphold someone means to keep them from falling. Your faith may have to be his or her faith. Your strength will need to be his or her strength. Your efforts go along way to help this person who seemingly cannot serve Christ well while in the midst of the weakness.
Regardless of the level of strength or weakness, Paul reminds us (by means of a command) that we must be patient with all people. So as you determine the best way to serve your friend who is going through a season of struggle, be patient. Remember, your friend did not volunteer to struggle. Your friend’s condition is an unwanted visitor. As you have opportunity to serve well, do not grow weary in well doing; instead, serve with patience.
How do you respond when your friend gets some kind of label? As a friend who loves and serves like Christ. You will want to recognize that true love for God is demonstrated by sincere love for your friend. This love patiently serves, carefully observes, compassionately and tenderheartedly cares, and selflessly walks through this season of suffering together with your friend