Has a friend ever shared something vulnerable with you and you didn’t know what to say? Maybe they confessed deep sin or confided in you about a mental health struggle.
Sometimes we can feel inadequate in helping a friend get through something difficult. Whether it’s addiction, depression, negative thoughts, or other things they’re ashamed of, friends who share their personal struggles are letting you into a sacred place. What an honor it is when others allow us into those vulnerable places.
In discussing Mental Health and Discipleship, Ethan Jasso talks with Alice Matagora about how to make space for these kinds of conversations. A few practices can help you do that.
Don’t try to fix it. Often people just want to share what they’re going through. They aren’t looking—in that moment anyway—for solutions to their problems. Most simply want to be heard and known. If you jump in with potential ways to fix the issue, you risk shutting the conversation off and closing future ones. It’s not that you should never share your thoughts, but you can wait until later when your friend feels ready.
Affirm your presence. Sharing vulnerably can lead to more intimacy in our relationships, but shame is a powerful force. It tells us that who we are isn’t wanted or lovable. Shame also tells us that no one would love us if they really knew us. Affirming that you’re not going anywhere can go a long way in healing and restoration. You could simply say, “I’m here,” or give your friend a hug. It doesn’t need to be something dramatic, just something that reminds them that you’re still with them no matter what.
We see in Scripture that people’s shame often drew Jesus closer to people. In Mark 5 we have a story about a woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years. The Scripture describes her as “one who had suffered much under many physicians, and spent all she had, and was no better, but grew worse” (Mark 5:26). She thought that if she could touch Jesus she would be healed, and she was right. As Jesus passed, with a great crowd all around Him, she touched His cloak and she was healed. But Jesus didn’t just move on. He stopped the crowd and asked who had touched him. She came forward and told him everything that had happened to her. Mark writes that she “came in fear and much trembling and fell down before him” (Mark 5:33). She acted vulnerably in coming to Jesus, especially with a crowd there. Jesus wanted to draw near to her, to look her in the face and say, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34). He didn’t just fix her problem. He sought to know her and have a relationship with her. We can offer the same love to people by simply being with them.
Seek to understand. Asking questions can be a great way to offer space for someone to share more about what they’re going through. The idea isn’t to bombard your friends with questions so you can diagnose what their problems are. Instead you’re allowing them to continue to share whatever they feel like sharing.
Once I was sharing something difficult with a mentor and he asked, “Is there anything you think I’m not understanding about what you’re going through?” I appreciated that he didn’t assume to know exactly what I was experiencing but instead, in humility, he invited me to share more about my life with him. He was trying to understand me, not solve my problem.
Pray together. One of the most healing things for me has been when others have invited God into this space. Prayer allows space for God’s grace and love to be experienced amid pain and vulnerability. Praying with others invites God to act powerfully. Sometimes I have no idea what to pray when I’m going through something difficult or painful. In those moments I’ve had to rely on the faith of others. God is the true Physician, and prayer lets Him do what only He can do.
People are complex beings. We don’t come with one-size-fits-all instructions, but these practices can help us become safe people who can walk alongside others as they go through difficult things.
- In a podcast, Ethan talks with disciplemaker and licensed therapist Alice Matagora about how we can promote our own and others’ mental health as we follow Jesus, who has put our shame to death on the cross.