Inevitably, members of your small group will face hardship and suffering. They may face financial difficulties, divorce, depression, addiction, unemployment, or even an event as devastating as a terminal illness or the death of a spouse or child. They may struggle to deal with broken fellowship within the small group, a church scandal, a rebellious child, or even thoughts of suicide. Are you and your small group prepared to help your members through such difficulties? All too often, we fail to reach out to those in pain because we simply don’t know what to do or say, and we’re afraid of actually making things worse.
Enter Group’s Emergency Response Handbook, a practical guide to help small groups extend God’s love and comfort to those who are hurting.
Whether it’s due to a crisis or to physiological causes, you will inevitably get the opportunity to help a fellow group member through his or her struggle with depression. The following, adapted from the chapter “Depression: Supporting Your Friend in the Darkness,” offers many practical ways to do just that:
When a person is experiencing depression, it’s difficult to know how to be present with him or her in the darkness. You want to let your friend know that you are caring and supportive, but you may feel drained by the heaviness and pessimism when you are with the person. Here are some tips to help you serve your friend:
- Actively listen. Encouraging your friend to talk about his or her sadness will foster understanding, which can help the person feel a sense of control over his or her emotions instead of feeling controlled by them. Although the feelings may frighten you, don’t be afraid; just listen as you would to any friend.
- Spend time with your friend. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to hide from others and try to recover on one’s own, but that’s exactly the opposite of what is needed. A depressed person needs other people! Your presence will help shoulder the burden of depression, allow for rest, stave off loneliness, guard against thoughts of suicide, and provide strength.
- Suggest enjoyable activities. Share your joy! Suggest activities that your depressed friend once enjoyed or those that you enjoy. Even if your friend seems resistant, there is a part of him or her that longs to do enjoyable things—it’s simply buried under depression. Be persistent!
- Exercise. You will be helping your friend immensely by committing to regularly exercise with him or her. Do it once a week, twice a week, even daily—any little bit will help! Play a sport, take an exercise class, or walk together after dinner.
- Prepare meals. When a friend is depressed, he or she may lose the motivation to cook and the desire to eat. Offer to prepare meals for your friend or to cook together. The food and the fellowship will be invaluable!
- Be nonjudgmental. Depressed people judge themselves every day, so the last thing they need is a friend who judges them, too. Communicate patience and grace. By doing this, you may help your friend become more patient and gracious toward him or herself.
Your small group can be a huge source of support and strength to a friend struggling with depression. These tips will help your group minister to your friend.
- Talk about it. Together, identify ways in which the depression has influenced the group. Some people may notice that they’re feeling depressed, frustrated, compassionate, or even angry. Take time to help people understand and empathize with the depressed person. As a group, talk about and research the dynamics of depression. Ask your depressed friend to share how he or she is feeling. Encourage others to share their own experiences with depression. Promote compassion, empathy, and knowledge within your group.
- Pray together. Prayer can be one of the most important factors in fighting depression. Encourage your friend to share specific prayer requests during the group time. Pray together as a group, and also ask group members to pray daily for their friend.
- Show your support in fun, practical ways. For example, you might create care baskets, regularly have group fun nights, establish a schedule to ensure that the group checks in on the person every day, and find creative ways to affirm your friend.
What NOT to Say
- “As Christians, we should show the joy of the Lord.” By making statements like this, you’ll only cause your friend to feel further from God. Your friend is probably aware that depression is not God’s emotional design for anyone, yet he or she still can’t stop being depressed.
- “Stop being so negative, and look at the positive.” Depression isn’t a choice, and can’t just disappear with an attitude adjustment. If your friend could simply “not be so negative,” he or she would. Saying something of this nature would be like telling a blind person to not be so blind.
- “I know that you’re better than this—don’t give in!” Saying this suggests that your friend is falling short and somehow failing to control his or her emotions. Your friend is likely already dealing with issues of self-worth and feelings of failure—this statement will only confirm those feelings.
What to Say
- “God is with you in this dark time.” Remind your friend of the relentless presence of God. By doing so, you’re telling the person that God is no stranger to depression and won’t disappear when life is tough.
- “How can I pray for you?” In this statement, you’re communicating that you wish to accommodate your friend spiritually as he or she journeys through this darkness.
- “I love you.” Although this may seem too simple, when it’s said often enough and demonstrated, it can make all the difference.
- “If you ever need anything, I’m here. I’ll call you on Friday to see how you’re doing.” Someone struggling with depression has a hard time taking a first step with friends and needs to be pursued. Letting someone know you’ll be there can be powerful. Be sincere, and then follow through on your words.
- “I’ve been thinking about you today.” This statement reveals that you care. Follow it with thoughtful questions. Anything that shows you listened to a previous conversation and remembered what your friend said will demonstrate that you believe he or she is worth listening to and paying attention to.
- “You’re doing a great job with…” Again, you’re confirming that the person with depression is worthwhile, despite what he or she may be feeling. You’re focusing on positive things even if he or she is incapable of doing so.
Trust God. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Lean on God as you learn to care for and counsel your friend. Pray for your friend regularly, and ask God to give you wisdom and insight into your friend’s heart.
(Adapted from Group’s Emergency Response Handbook, Group Publishing, Inc., 2006.)