Supporting someone going through a difficult time

Q: One of my friends was recently widowed, and someone in my extended family has been diagnosed with a serious (possibly terminal) illness. I see both of them fairly often and want to encourage them, but I feel awkward.

Jim: It’s natural to want to ease a loved one’s pain. But we’ve all stumbled through enough uncomfortable moments to know finding the right words can be tricky.

Still, you can offer something meaningful and truly comforting to a friend or family member who’s struggling. To start with, don’t try to avoid whatever dark emotion they’re feeling. Be willing to enter into it. It’s when you’re running away from a person’s pain that you’ll tend to say something trite or insensitive.

Instead, connect with the person by saying, “I’m here for you.” Then, stay engaged. You see, there may be moments along the way when everything in their life seems relatively back to normal. That’s usually when most people minimize the ongoing crisis their loved one is experiencing. And it’s why it’s one thing to say you’ll be there, but another to actually stay involved for what could still be a long journey ahead.

Another idea is to simply say, “You’re in my prayers” (and really pray, of course). There may even be days when it’s best to say nothing at all. Just offer a smile and a hug.

Remember, your challenge isn’t to find that magic word that will take away someone’s pain. Life doesn’t work like that. Your role is to connect with them and let your consistent presence show you’re with them throughout their time of suffering.

If you’d like to talk to our counselors and discuss these matters, I invite you to call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Q: When I started graduate school, I decided I wouldn’t get romantically involved until my degree was finished. I’m almost done now, but I feel rusty and out of practice dating-wise. I’m not even sure at this point what sort of person to look for; past relationships didn’t turn out so well, and I want to avoid similar problems in the future. Any advice?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: When it comes to dating, many young adults rely on their feelings instead of thinking things through. And that’s why a lot of them end up filled with remorse and regret down the road.

To avoid that outcome in your dating life, remember that the most important quality of any relationship is character. A person may have a charming personality, good looks or intelligence. But if there’s no character behind the veneer, you’ll find it hard — if not impossible — to forge a lasting and meaningful bond.

The way to get to know someone’s character is to spend a lot of time together. Before becoming romantically involved with an individual of the opposite sex, you should do the hard work of building an authentic friendship with that person based on points in common. Over time, you’ll discover the truth about each other’s values and attitudes. That’s a crucial step in deciding whether or not you want to take your relationship beyond mere friendship.

Don’t misunderstand: The point of an approach like this is not to find someone who’s perfect (nobody is). It’s to get a sense of who that person truly is. Because in the long run, without good character that person will definitely not be a good dating prospect — no matter how smart, successful or good- looking he or she may be.

By the way, Focus on the Family has an outreach addressing single life from a faith-based perspective; see Boundless.org.

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Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.