At some point in our lives, most of us will walk alongside a friend or loved one who has survived a traumatic accident or illness, and is now facing the many challenges of living with a disability. You may have felt deep concern and compassion for your friend but struggled with feeling unsure on how to be an encouragement. If you are facing this type of challenging situation right now, or know of someone who is, I hope the following suggestions will help guide you.
Freedom to grieve: Perhaps you are feeling frustrated and uncertain of your ability to assist and encourage your friend. It may help to remember that someone with a new disability has experienced a major life-changing event and needs time to realize and accept what has happened. Sorting through the feelings of depression and anger can be a lengthy process. Your friend will need the freedom to question why and to grieve.
A listening ear: I wish there was some way to hurry this period of adjustment, but through your loving care you can at least help your friend know they are not alone. Throughout my years serving in disability ministry I have learned that it is most important to be a good listener and supporter during this difficult period, offering advice and counsel sparingly. If you have not done so already, it may be helpful to read Joni’s book Joni in which she describes her own process of adjustment.
Friendship: Take time to enjoy the friendship. Simply being with your friend as you enjoy favorite activities together can give them a sense of normalcy in a world filled with so much change. Your consistent care and acceptance, during the highs and lows, will help your friend through this time of adjustment.
Share resources: The Joni and Friends website offers some wonderful online resources. You might learn valuable advice by looking over some of our frequently asked questions on our Help and Resources pages, specifically What to say to a newly injured person. The ideas there will offer help and encouragement as you prayerfully reach out to your friend. If you still feel unsure or have unanswered questions, you or your friend are invited to call the Joni and Friends Response Department at 818-575-1705.
I am confident that your actions of care and concern will lay a strong foundation for further sharing. And pray continually that in your gentle support, “… God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NLT). May God bless you in your loving efforts.
Crystal Keating serves with the Response Department at Joni and Friends, providing encouragement and practical resources for people affected by disability. She has advocated for true life in Christ to women with unwanted pregnancies, homeless families, and neglected children since 2000. She is also a graduate student, studying marriage and family counseling.