“How can I pray for you?”
Those were the words sent to me via text message from a teaching colleague. I had just shared the news that chemotherapy might be on the horizon as treatment for the cancer cells found in my breast.
The thought of chemotherapy scared me.
I don’t take aspirin for headaches and I’ve never really had a full-blown flu. And honestly, I had never actually felt this cancer. It made its first appearance as a lump discovered by a doctor during a routine check-up. So, the idea of putting poison into my body to kill some possible cells that could have escaped from the lump frightened me.
And yet, here I was: faced with words that allowed me to think about what I needed from someone who wanted to offer support—but didn’t know how.
No, she could not cure what ailed me.
No, she could not promise that getting chemotherapy would prevent the cancer cells from reappearing.
No, she could not promise that the side effects would be easy.
She was asking me what she could ask of God, on my behalf, that would make this journey more hopeful than it seemed.
My response: “Please pray that I can continue doing what I am doing.”
I had found the right path to be on; I was owning my story, and it was developing my writer’s voice in such a a way that it was coming alive on paper, showing students in the classroom that it’s okay to be vulnerable and open. I wanted to continue on this road, for this part of me to grow stronger. I hoped God could give me that.
My reply taught me a lesson about what matters most to me. This exchange taught me how to interact with people for whom I care when they are going through personal crisis and I don’t know how to help.
We’ve all been there. Someone loses a job, a relationship falls apart, someone gets a diagnosis.
We want to say the right words, but we just aren’t sure what they are.
We want to offer our advice, or opinion—to do something, anything—but our friends or loved ones might not be ready for advice and opinion. They can’t tell us what needs to be done. When we venture down those paths, conversations can get messy, feelings can get hurt, and someone may end up walking away slighted when in truth, it all started with the best intentions.
The words are simple: “How can I pray for you?” or, “How can I support you at this time?”
Concise, yet meaningful, these words allow our friend or loved one the space to be honest about what it is they need, at the time. Maybe they just need to know that someone is praying for them, or maybe they have a specific need based on what they know of us and our role in their life. At one point, for example, I was sourcing feedback from family and friends who were notoriously stylish. I had them on-call for when my side-effects would kick into overdrive and I needed to feel good about myself, physically.
Conversely, they might just ask for our presence without speaking any words at all. For me, this took the form of asking people to simply sit beside me during meditative coloring sessions, having folks practice beside me on yoga mats, or just going out for runs.
Allowing someone to take ownership of what they need in their life during a difficult time eases the burden on everyone.
Author: Regina Hastings
Image: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Elyse Sinclair; Editor: Toby Israel