Clearly, a lovely pat answer to this question would be to “listen to God and say what He tells you.” I know from experience that this sounds beautiful, but doing it is a different thing altogether. Each person and situation is different. I believe that “listening to God” applies at a personal level, like listening to our friends. Really listening helps them more than we know.
Very often, when I go crying to my friends, I’m not looking for spiritual guidance. Just the other night, I was sobbing silently on the phone to my friend, and her words offered little or no help to me. Rather than offering comforting words, she was saying things that (in my opinion) she thought sounded pro-active, but to me sounded more like, “Get over it!” The next night as I talked with her, it became clear to me that what I had wanted in that situation was not a solution, but just a shoulder to cry on and soft words spoken to me. When I explained this, she understood. So, two days ago, when I found myself sobbing again, this time in her arms and not in her ear, she did exactly as I wanted -- she held me and loved me with open arms and soothing words. Her love raised my spirits considerably. She had really listened to me.
My friend had to meet me at my level with what I needed. She could have quoted the Bible to me, but as my thought was not receptive to it, it would have done no good. What I needed was a comforter and love. From childhood, I have been taught God’s Love meets everyone’s need, which is a very graceful quality. Although my friend gave no spiritual words of wisdom, she was expressing God’s love by recognizing and meeting my immediate need. The grace of God’s love shone through her. “Listening to God” helped her simply love me. This grace didn’t require me to be seeking spiritual enlightenment in order to bring me comfort, nor did it require my friend to speak cliché expressions because she didn’t know what else to do.
Jesus, widely recognized as the most spiritual person in the history of the world, healed and comforted with this grace. When he was healing the masses of lepers, invalids, and sick people, he didn’t spout meaningless words at them. He met them at their level of need. When he put mud on a blind man’s eyes and healed him, the mud was not necessary to the healing. But Jesus reached out to him, touching his eyes, which brought comfort to the blind man by allowing him to understand what Jesus was doing (John 9:6,7). There are also accounts of Jesus putting his hands on those whom he healed. It was not the physical contact which healed; but the love that Jesus expressed in reaching out and touching these people brought comfort and healing.
Let’s bring this back to helping our friends. Often, I find myself in positions with my friend, as in the situation I described, but with the roles reversed. Often it seemed like I could never come up with the right words to say to her. I’ve worried that I should be telling her something spiritual or Biblical. But just repeating Bible verses because it’s what you think you should do isn’t always helpful. Real spiritual guidance comes from truly listening to God. I’ve come to discover that the most supportive thing I can do sometimes is to express God’s comforting word by simply loving.
When friends come to you, just LOVE THEM! How to love them is individual to every person and situation, but if you listen to them (and God), the “how” WILL come to you! I’ve found that telling them how much you love them can make all the difference in the world. And I DO understand how we can sometimes feel helpless when trying to help others; but I also know what it feels like when you’re the one needing help and feeling helpless. I needed tender care and love. What do your friends need? I suggest asking them! When you listen to them with love and an earnest desire to help them, your motives are unselfish. As a result, you are able to pick up on what they need, even if they won’t tell you outright (because sometimes they don’t even know themselves). As our great teacher said, “…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10: 19, 20). Jesus’ main message was love, and you can’t get any more spiritual than that! Sometimes, all we need is love.