Storms of suffering present challenges on at least two levels. The storm itself is level one – the accident, the miscarriage, the sickness, the betrayal, the financial loss. These objective realities are incredibly hard to navigate, but according to the testimony of survivors they are, surprisingly, not the biggest challenge. The internal storm (level two) that rages as a result proves even more difficult to navigate – the untamed anxieties, the unyielding doubts, the unshakable depression, the unresolved confusion… the unending exhaustion.
I recently interviewed an incredible circle of women who have shown me what it looks like to help a friend navigate both levels of life’s devastating storms — the objective realities and the personal grappling. These women have faithfully supported their close girlfriend Nicka Pohl while her husband, Brent, endured: a liver transplant, a kidney transplant, and over 80 days in the hospital due to complications.
First, these women pursued opportunities to relieve as much pressure as possible.
“While Brent was in the hospital, the question we focused on was, ‘What can we take off Nicka’s plate.’” Dana Frain said. “There were many practical needs. A neighbor organized a meal plan and basically the whole neighborhood stepped up to provide meals. Friends from the house church mowed their lawn. Some collected money to pay for Nicka’s parking at Hopkins. Others assembled snack packages filled with drinks and health bars that she could take on her trips to the hospital. A few would check in with Nicka regularly to see if she needed them to run errands or stop by Target. Others babysat or drove their children to events.”
Through it all, Nicka’s inner circle of girlfriends took point and guarded her from having to interface with lots of people, especially when her emotional reserves were depleted.
Supporting a friend through suffering requires forethought, organization, and loving sacrifice. These women did a great job relieving the pressure of Nicka’s “level 1” challenges. They saw what needed to be done and jumped into action. But the wisdom of their care shined even brighter as they supported Nicka through the “level 2” challenges.
Equally important as relieving certain pressures, they also understood their limitations to make things better.
Keyne Geisler had known Nicka since high school. Their long history and intimate knowledge of each other allowed them to feel completely safe. In the midst of terrifying uncertainty, they could communicate without speaking any words. There was no need to ask questions, even though they had the same ones – What is going on? Is Brent going to die or not?
“Nicka didn’t know why all this was happening to her husband. I didn’t feel I needed to answer her.” Keyne said. “I knew how deeply Nicka desired to trust Christ—not people, not me, not doctors. It wouldn’t be me that helped her. It would be the Holy Spirit. I just felt like I could help with practical needs but only God could truly meet her heart needs.”
So these women turned to God and helped Nicka to do the same. They appealed to everyone they could to pray for the Pohls and to send index cards with encouraging Bible verses. They wallpapered Brent’s hospital room with God’s promises. With Nicka, they waited patiently on the Lord and resisted the urge to try to “fix it”. Their faithfulness to God and their sympathetic love for Nicka made them sweet comforters.
Personally, Jenna Mace knew how hard it was to lose a family member. Jenna’s loss propelled her into a depression that made it very painful to worship the Lord. Because Nicka had walked through that experience with Jenna, they shared a deep trust that enabled genuine conversations to occur without presumption or guardedness, even on Nicka’s most fearful days. This was 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 in action: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
“When we face suffering, our experience is often marked by trust and fear — intertwined together.” Keyne added. “One moment can be full of faith, the next full of fear. But somehow, God’s grace is enough.”
For this group of women, it was God’s grace – not their ability to understand things or fix things that sustained them with an undeniable (and contagious) sense of peace. And it was their love for a friend that enabled them to anticipate need and work to relieve it.
By learning from their story, we might offer better comfort to our friends when they endure life’s stormiest seasons.