I will step on many toes here, but know that I have no individuals in mind as I write this.
The reason this post will hurt so much is because I believe that all of us, including me, have failed in this area. Even as I type, I cringe at the memory of the times when I have gotten this wrong. We are in this together, so please let me be blunt and honest without the fear of spreading unintended offense.
Soon after we came home with Caleb, the advice began to poor in. It took on many different forms, but it all felt the same to me, as though the person giving it wanted to fix the problem rather than enter into my sorrow and grief. I needed someone to share my broken dreams, my heartache and my despair - someone who I could be real with, not put on a show for, having to act as if everything would be all right. I needed someone who could open up her heart enough to shoulder a bit of my hurt. But I could do none of this when the only thing being offered was advice.
The advice came in many different forms:
There was the well meaning church goer who prayed for Caleb's healing and then felt that we needed to believe and act like he was healed. This approach left no room for grief or sadness or sorrow. Once the prayer was done, it was time to cheer up and start speaking and living in faith. I believe that prayers are crucial, but when offering prayers, especially for healing, please know that the family must continue to live in the present situation until a miracle occurs. Just as Jesus wanted his disciples to stay awake and be present with Him as he was facing His final hours, please be present with the family until a time comes that God changes the circumstances. Allow them to feel the sadness and to be real with you. Continue your prayers in private, but when with the family be fully present to their current needs.
Then there was the well informed individual who provided us with articles on different ways to fix the problems. Nowadays, with the Internet, there is no reason to ever provide a family with articles unless they have specifically requested them. Trust me, they are getting plenty of advice from doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and other professionals. Most families will have researched and read more than they can ever comprehend on the area of sickness that their child is experiencing. If a family feels that you have information they would like, they will be sure to ask you.
The natural and holistic friends also began to offer names of herbal remedies and holistic approaches. The challenge here is that many families have just been going through months of medical interventions. They have now lost hope that the medical community can help them and so they are willing to reach out to anyone who throws them a life line. The danger in this is that these kids have many different things going on with their bodies. Without proper guidance, adding herbal remedies into the mix of all of their medicines can quickly become dangerous. I do believe that there is a time and place for holistic eating and wellness. I believe that changing a child's diet can often times help. But trust me when I say, if you are knowledgeable in this area, your friends are aware of your expertise. Again, they will seek you out if this is a path that they would like to explore. When you continue to offer them these choices, it feels that unless they try this path, it is their own fault that their child is still living with this illness. Just as someone who lives a more natural and holistic lifestyle might not choose to try a certain medicine or surgery, so a family may not choose to seek out natural remedies. Please still support them and enter into their lives. Be caring and compassionate and truly respect their choices.
There was also the optimistic person who stated, "Everything will be all right. Just wait and see." This advice first of all is so wrong. Oftentimes, these families will never see a healing this side of heaven. They have now entered into a completely new way of life that they did not ask for. Of course, there will be good times and they will eventually adjust to this new life, but to rush that along is cruel and heartless. Try to imagine what your life would look and feel like if you had just experienced what they are going through. Spend some time with those feelings of despair. And then come along side the family with no promises of a brighter tomorrow, but with the offer of a helping hand to hold along the way.
Once you have walked with your friend for a year or two and have earned the right to give advice, you will know when the time is right to speak and when your words will no longer be looked upon as a quick fix but as a healing balm that will bring comfort and relief.
Again, I share this truly out of love. We so often get this area wrong and our well meaning intentions bring hurt rather than healing. Please take my advice to heart and the next time a word of advice forms on your lips, close your mouth, reach out your hand, come along side and begin walking the path with your friend.