Help Through Hard Times: How to Make a True Difference

As a pastor for more than three decades, I’ve heard more than a few stories of heartache and hurt. Health scares, financial woes, relationship valleys: everyone I know is going through a hard time to some extent, and probably everyone you know is as well.

8 Dos and Don’ts To Help Through Hard Times

So what should we do when people share their turbulent times with us? Here are a few dos and don’ts to help a friend.

1. Do tell them they’re not facing this time alone.

Offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Be available to run errands, care for kids, or provide a meal.

2. Don’t make the situation about you.

It’s tempting to share your personal story—or that of a loved one—but this makes the conversation all about you, not about the person facing turbulent times. Focus on the person who is hurting.

3. Do urge them to make a plan.

Hard times are a petri dish for brainless decisions, so help make a plan for getting through. And then help them stick to it.

4. Don’t enable foolish behavior.

If your friend is in debt, a shopping spree won’t help the situation. An affair won’t mend a struggling marriage, and you can’t fix a drug addiction with more drugs. Stupid won’t fix stupid.

5. Do encourage forgiveness.

Forgiveness can take time, but it’s the key that releases us from a prison of bitterness. As long as someone’s trying to forgive, they are forgiving.

6. Don’t advise revenge.

If someone’s been wronged, the desire for retribution can be hard to ignore. Revenge can feel sweet for the moment, but then what? The after effects of lashing out won’t help anyone get through the pain. It will only prolong the hurt and break more hearts.

7. Don’t promise a quick resolution.

While we all wish a cancer would go into remission tomorrow or that pain would vanish next week, that may not be the case. Remain positive without being naïve.

8. Do look for the hidden good.

When the time is right, look for positive outcomes that might be found in the mess, like restored relationships, a renewed zest for life, or wisdom for the future. All are possible effects of turbulent times. Help a friend focus on these silver linings when they appear.

How Do You Help a Friend Through Hard Times?

As you have helped friends and family through challenging times (or as they have helped you), what have been the most effective and appreciated actions? Share in the comment section below.

Max Lucado loves words – written, spoken – it does not matter. Max is a minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, and in almost 25 years of writing, more than 80 million books filled with his words have been sold. For more of Max’s tips and tools for thriving in turbulent times, check out You’ll Get Through This.

  • Ms. Sheila Jones

    good advice thanks.

  • Anthony

    Gerry and Paige,While I only met Dawn 3 times, she was a very special person. May God comfort you during this time. A poem that comforted me during my loss of a loved one, and I hope that it brings you comfort as well.Jennifer Lauren MantoLook for me in RainbowsTime for me to go now, I won’t say goodbye;Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky.In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.Time for me to leave you, I won’t say goodbye;Look for me in rainbows, high up in the sky.In the evening sunset, when all the world is through,Just look for me and love me, and I’ll be close to you.It won’t be forever, the day will come and thenMy loving arms will hold you, when we meet again.Time for us to part now, we won’t say goodbye;Look for me in rainbows, shining in the sky.Every waking moment, and all your whole life throughJust look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.Just wish me to be near you,And I’ll be there with you.Music and lyrics: Conn Bernard (1990). Vicki Brown

  • Marilyn Swain

    I’ve been a Parish Nurse for about twelve years which includes referral, resources available, plus “one on one” contacts to shut ins, hospital calls, etc. During this time ( I thank you you so much) I have used your two volumes of ” Grace for the Moment” plus “God”s Promises for You.” Each contact includes a devotion and prayer. They need to be short but to the point when people are grieving, ill, depressed, or especially in pain. I thank our Lord for you.

  • Deborah Shoniker

    Very well written, to the point, You have hit the nail on the head…. So many of friends and relatives are battling health issues right now! There are so many that are too young, to be going through it. Sickness is hitting every family. Thank you so much for your insight. These tips will be coming in handy alot this year. Wish it wasn’t so….. God bless deb Thank you also Caring Bridge for making it happen!

  • Carol C

    I meant to add that it isn’t just my nuring background that lead me to volunteer in palliative but I lost my daughter suddenly 10 years ago now at the age of 33. She had ann 11 year old daughter whom now is with us. This was devastating but many people gathered around us and helped us get through the worst experiece of our lives. I also have a deep love of our Lord Jesus who helps me to help others in their times of sorrow.

  • Carol C

    I was a nurse all my working life and now volunteer one morning a week on the palliative care unit of our local hospital. I find encouraging people to talk and listen attentively is the best I can do. These people are on the brink of death and often only survive for a week once they are transfered to our unit. I ask God to shine His glorious light through me to these people that they may see Him and reach out to Him.

  • Angela

    Hi Diana – we are so excited that you would like to share Max’s tips in your local newspaper. I will be in touch with you to discuss more!

  • KateMarie

    Interceding prayer, not to get in the way of God’s amazing grace, offer love and listening not answers, let The Lord provide for the need so He gets the Glory, He might use you to support and supply, or to encourage the waiting time for faith to grow. Remember all is bigger than what we see… More are being drawn to him than who we see.. Ps 139 is ever true!

  • Diana Solle

    Can I use this article in my Victim Advocate Corner in our local newspaper. Each week I write about domestic violence and sexual assault and helping victims through community awareness, among other things. I am the Victim-Witness Advocate for such victims in Powell County, MT. I do not get paid for these weekly articles.

  • Tom Morofski, Dana's Grandfather

    Family and friends, close and not so close, just showing up and being there. Thoughtful, kind, considerate words. Example? The day after our beautiful granddaughter dies in a horrific auto accident her very last teacher wrote; “Dana wasn’t quite finished helping with the other students work. I ask her if she wanted to stay over. She said no, she couldn’t but not to worry. She would take care of it all tomorrow. But sometimes … tomorrow never comes.” Friends, those three words echo in my mind some three months later … “tomorrow never comes”. This teacher is a Christian and she just as I know without doubt that our Dana is in heaven with Jesus. And this wonderful public school teacher has a hole in her heart just as Dana’s Father, Mother, Brother, and family all do. We will see her again in the Lord’s time and then the hurting and the grief and the tears and the agony will be forever gone.

  • Brenda M. Russell

    Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience. It seems that groceries and laundry needs have always been appreciated. I am not a person who cooks a lot so I enjoy helping by purchasing household goods and also I offer to do laundry, as I find it therapeutic for me. Sometimes just visiting and being quiet gives a sense of security in friendship. Be strong in the love of God and never say if I were you . . .

  • Wendy K. Rice

    Dear Jean: I lost my only son to suicide two years ago and completely understand your comments. God bless you.

  • Wendy K. Rice

    This message was very timely and spot on for me today…that you Pastor Max.

  • Rich Faulk

    Thank you for the words above. I it seems like so many men are going thru some times that I thought I would never be experiencing. My wife of 34 years has decided that she needs to find herself. I live in the same house with her but only as a roommate. These are very tough and uncertain times but I continue to look for what is it I should be learning from this. I encourage all who may be in my same place to keep plugging on in a forward direction even if that is to just put one foot in front of the other.

  • Jean

    Having lost my son to suicide 11/2 yrs ago, two things……NO you don’t have any idea how it feels! YES, it will get easier although you think of him every day. You learn to accommodate the hole in your heart which will never leave, but one day you will meet again:)

  • Charlotte Deneice Windham

    Thanks for all you do. You have some great books.

  • Rosemary

    There’s some good advice here — worth reading.

  • Kim Collier-Clardy

    Great application and advice.

  • Peggy

    As I was struggling to make new friends in a new community, there were a few friends who stood by me and offered
    care and comfort. Just knowing that they were there for me, took away the unhappiness and lifted me up to see
    joy and happiness ahead and in the present moment. And then my pastors and church friends offered me a welcoming spirit and that was also a gift combined with the patience and kindness of my friends. God is also with me thru my loving family who have stood by me also with advice and understanding. I want to sing and dance to the happy tune in my heart!

  • Dodie

    My husband of almost 52 years died of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2011. We met in Sunday School when I was seven. Several years ago I purchased a card which I have now framed. It reads, Lord, thank you for upheaval, for rocking my little boat, for sending winds that seem too strong and waves that threaten to capsize me. Because all of this drives me into your arms. And anything which results in that end, Lord, is worth getting wet over. Yes, I have days when I feel drenched but I cling to God’s promise that He will never leave me or forsake me. Thank you, Max for your faithfulness to Jesus and for sharing such wise counsel.

  • Julia Walley

    After the passing of my 26 year old son and only child in 2010, surprisingly most of my comfort came through new friend’s and even strangers that prayed with me on the spot or sent cards of encouragement well after his passing and small gifts, trinkets and such were in no small quantity from my loved one’s, I am still amazed to this day of the amount of love, hugs, and care lavished on my husband and
    myself. I have learned the one going through the struggle can either push people away or accept their efforts realizing that they are at a loss and are struggling also and should attempt to comfort them as they try to comfort you.

  • Melissa

    The only thing I would add is don’t encourage forgiveness too early on if someone is grappling with the early stages of anger. Many people feel guilt for having and expressing their anger and I would spend some time acknowledging that anger is a perfectly normal part of the process for some. If it lingers on for too long, however, that is another issue and can be addressed accordingly and appropriately.

  • Mark Gregoire

    Max Lucado – great author and explains Wisdom from God with love and compassion

  • Sara McMullen

    Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, as you said. My friend is facing her husband’s illness, and she has told me she can’t help but think about what she will do when he dies. She feels she is betraying him by having these thoughts. He has stage 4 pancreatic cancer….. Yesterday, I was telling my friend (who was out of town with her husband) that the neighbor saw her son mowing their lawn. I said, “your kids have really risen to the occasion, since your husband’s illness.” I know it made her feel good that I recognized that, but even better, that they have come forward and have been so helpful. As hard as the illness is to face, it is such a gift to have three grown children who are reaching out and helping their dad and mom. All I did was notice!

  • Dave Broussard

    This is wonderful advice. The hardest thing I have found is with respect to “sharing” my experiences. I used to think it would show I had relational experience. I never thought it would change emphasis to me. Must sound selfish.

  • Chloye Bailey

    Good advice — I’m guilty of one of the “do nots” and will learn from your comments!

  • Maureen

    Thank you for these wise words. Through tough times I have always appreciated simple phone messages, txt and cards which simply state I am thinking of you, no need to reply but I am here if you need me. People often forget, especially when the situation came on suddenly and unexpected, it’s difficult to repeat what happen to everyone who inquires. Just knowing someone is thinking of you is heartwarming. Recently, during a life threatening illness for our daughter, I asked a friend to help me with our Caringbridge site to communicate with people about things we needed and to also give people another point of contact (removing me from this job) to coordinate drop off of meals etc. this became invaluable and allowed me to focus more on my daughter. Also, always remember children or siblings of ill or deceased family members. Delivering their favorite meal, taking them to their favorite restaurant or perhaps a card/ small gift just for them shows them they are not forgotten is incredibly important for their spirit. Lastly, when thinking what to do for a person/family in need, think outside the box of dropping of a meal, sending flowers etc. Consider dropping off a wonderful homemade lunch in an insulated bag. Hospital food gets old and expensive. Consider a gas gift card if someone is having to frequently go back and forth to a hospital or lots of doctors appts. Most of all be present for anyone in need through prayer.

  • Jill J. Horton

    When our son went to Iraq in September of 2004, I read a couple of books along with the Bible that gave me peace. “It’s Not About Me”, by you sir and “Why” by Ruth Graham Lotz. Our son was blown up in February of 2005 and suffered many injuries. The words I read, the prayers, and kindnesses shown all spoke to me. I was able to encourage others in the waiting room because of the Father’s comfort to me.

  • laura

    Thanks for the advice, Max. When someone you know loses a loved one, it is really difficult to know what to do. I am thankful for your words of wisdom.

  • Ann Mayer

    I found it comforting to hear a funny or kind story about my loved one. It allowed me to share a smile with someone who knew how special my loved one was.

  • Maryann Coppersmith

    I am going through so much right now, wish I had a friend that would stand by me through all this & just hug me & tell me it’s going to be ok, I promise after I get through this that will be my mission to find the lonely people who need encouragement & love…

  • juli Yang

    Checking in on them through personal message and sending them a prayer daily with some scripture, a hymn attatched, a sticker, and maybe sharing something from your day as well as asking about theirs. Be consistent. And don’t stop even if they aren’t up to answering back.

  • Lisa Kuechler

    I…I hesitate to say…but…sometimes when I have gone through hard times the story of someone else sharing a difficult time in their life helps. They have taken the time to sit or talk with me. I agree, though, one must approach it with caution. Make the focus about them. That is very good advice.

  • Billie Hudgins

    Am reading “You’ll get through this”, am getting this for my Grandson who needs to read it, going through a difficult time right now. Thank you for all the great reading you have given to me, started by reading 3:13 was hooked.

  • hatti

    On my most difficult days since my husband died,I turn on Create tv. mute the sound and just enjoy the flowers on the garden shows. I also like the waynewrites work shope. For being with a friend. I have cleaned their house, while they rest, I ask if I can read to them. Reading has to be calming. It directs their mind through a familiar garden; if they can imagine a rose, an Iris or day lilies. Daily devotionals can be a good choice also.

  • Cheryl

    Knowing that the people I have asked to pray really are praying – not just saying they will.

  • laurie brannagan

    Just sitting, holding a hand and not saying a word. Silence is golden.

  • Christina

    Hi Max, thanks for sharing. Christyn Taylor and Kay Warren have been great teachers for me in this area. Christyn taught a wonderful study on the book of Job last year. We need to remember to model Job’s friends the first three days they were with him. When they opened their mouths on the fourth day, the trouble began.