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. . .My dear, dear friends have been stuck in another country for a long, long time. It is a place they are called to, where they chose to go, where they make their home. They work long days, striving to keep up with yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s needs. In this place where they are stuck, they love, deeply. And loving sometimes hurts, deeply. Just yesterday my friends lost a beloved mother in the community where they minister, and they now weep alongside her immediate family. My friends face the normal exhaustions of work and weather, like everyone else there, but they have also experienced the wretchedness of another country’s bureaucratic red tape as their family moved through numerous adoption processes. Their red tape has been the stickiest, most complex and stymying that I have ever witnessed. After years of this, they need to come back here for deep, long rest, recovery, and restoration. But, they are still stuck. What do I say in the face of their broken-hearted despair and exhaustion?

What do I say when. . .?

. . . My life-long friend has not seen life turn out the way they wanted. Sure, maybe the job has worked out, and they have a cute house. Even a dog. But they have not yet found their life partner, and that ever-urgent longing is dying on the vine, crumbling to pieces all around them. Seeds of disappointment grow like weeds, crowding their heart and their vision. Loneliness chokes them, even as they gather regularly among loving family and good friends. It is hard to see much beyond the things they lack and long for, to hear the words of hope. What do I say to their aching, heavy sorrow?

What do I say when. . .?

. . . The brightest glowing star of gladness and goodness and joy that I know gets a heavy-handed, unexpected diagnosis of cancer. This person is a hub of hope and helping hands and a constant friend to anyone who needs it. But they are, of course, a very normal person who feels absolutely terrible and tired when they are sick. Normal life feels unfair and overwhelming when cancer drives down the center lane, even to the brightest and best. No one can whisk away the monster. No one can reassemble the broken pieces exactly how they were before the break. What do I say to a bright star struggling to stay lit?

What do I say when. . .?

. . . The job has simply become too much for a friend who said yes to the call? Too many things came along, set them on fire, and burnt them out. To a crisp. But they need a job. (Bills, you know, and life in general costs much.) Actually, they want a job too. Jobs are good and fulfilling and quite often, fun. But, this one feels over, and no others work out. The future feels daunting, tiring, and wretchedly trial-some based on the fact that they have tried (and tried) to move on without success. What do I say to their bleak, grey perspective?

Really. What do I say?

Well, gosh. I don’t know. I’m no more of an expert than the rest of you. Perhaps I just know a lot of people dealing with painful circumstances, but, Reader, if you pause for just a moment, I know you’ll realize you know these people, and their grief, too.

Now, if you are my friend, and you’ve read this far, I feel that you might be angry, or scared, or feel exposed. Because, with the exception of the first, very particular case, each of these examples brought to mind numerous actual friends of mine.

And when I sit with you, I don’t have words. At least, not good or right or perfect words. In the face of your stories of pain, loss, and exhaustion, my mouth fills with sawdust and nothing but dust comes out. I just try to listen very, very well, and love in return.

But, please note, I’ve never asked you to stop sharing your stories, and I never, ever will. There is something redemptive in the sharing of and the hearing of stories — real, true, personal stories. And that is, in part, due to the fact that when we listen well, we find our own selves in the story and in the hurt. And, we know and love one another better by our struggle to communicate the knowing and the hurting.

Eventually all the stories of this kind have nowhere to go except to the throne of Jesus — the very singular God who can truly save us from our time of trial. Jesus knows the time of trial, and died so he could save us from it. But, he also gives us one another to stand unified together, to weep through it, and to stumble around in it together. My greatest worry for the world is the people who think their story is too bad to tell, or only theirs to hold.

What are we supposed to say? I don’t know, actually, but I know we should tell our stories, and trust that in telling them we are drawn into redemption and grace.

header photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash
woman’s eyes photo by Louis Galvez on Unsplash
drowning hand photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash
head on shoulder photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash

Katy Sundararajan

Katy enjoys writing here at the Reformed Journal about the small things that give us pause and point us to great wonder, the things that make our hearts glad and remind us of where our hope comes from. You can find more of Katy’s writing through Words of Hope free daily devotionals, and in Guideposts’ All God’s Creatures: Daily Devotions for Animal Lovers. Give Katy a good book, a pretty view, or a meal around the table with laughing people and she’ll say, “All is well.”


  • Sharon says:

    Thanks. Just be present.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Yesterday I broke under helpless listening. Slept very little. Got up early. Wept again. Opened the windows and listened to the morning. And your loving and as always beautifully written piece. What DO you do?
    Be with. Be with especially when it doesn’t heal a thing. Listen to the mourning.

  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    I was listened to and the loving eyes just waited for my story. Profound. Thank you Katie for sharing your story.

  • Thomas Bartha says:

    Thank-you, Katy, for these good words. They have caused me to think of several dear friends–all at a distance–contending with unrelenting woes and struggle. Words in texts or email or phone rarely seem enough. But I’m grateful for the privilege of listening, and helping possibly to absorb some small degree of their pain. Good words today.

  • Norm Kansfiels says:

    Thank you, Katy.

  • Christopher Poest says:

    Thank you once again, Katy.

  • Thank you Katy! I read this on a morning when I was feeling that I couldn’t possibly listen any longer to a friend’s pain. But you gave me hope that all our listening is not in vain, that it has a place and a purpose, even if all we can do is say, “I’m here. I care. You are loved.” But my word to you, to myself and to everyone who listens and cares and hurts along with others is this: God did not create us to be containers of other people’s pain; He created us to be conduits. I am constantly needing to remember to give my friend’s pain to God, praying that as I give it to Him, His grace flows back to me and through me. Blessings, Maureen

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