Being a Companion

2013-02-15 13-1.59.36By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at

How does one support a dear one in your life who is torn apart by something you can’t fix or even fully understand?

There have been times in my life when a loved one has been struggling through an experience that I have never had and can’t totally fathom. I want so much to support this person, but feel encumbered by my lack of experience in the area of their pain.

At times, just physically being with them or carrying the tools of open-hearted listening and physically and emotionally being there are of some solace. No words are necessary, they wouldn’t help anyway.

But there are other times when the person is seeking active support. How do we do that?

I don’t know what suffering from depression, for example, feels like. I can’t think of ways that might help when they ask for it.

As I hold the suffering up in prayer, and hold myself up in prayer as a caregiver, I can feel the Light flowing into both of us. Sometimes that feels like enough. Sometimes their pain is so large nothing feels like enough but I take some solace in knowing they are not alone on this journey and neither am I.

Parker Palmer touches on this in his book Let Your Life Speak. He talks of one of his depressions where a friend was able to just BE with him. “He never tried to invade my awful inwardness with false comfort or advice; he simply stood on its boundaries, modeling the respect for me and my journey—and the courage to let it be—that I myself needed if I were to endure.”

This is “the kind of love that neither avoids nor invades the soul’s suffering. It is a love in which we represent God’s love to a suffering person, a God who does not ‘fix’ us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another’s solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper than any human being can give.”

When times are scary and dark, hearing, “I am with you” can get us through.

5 thoughts on “Being a Companion

  1. Thank-you, Stephanie. Something you shared caught my attention especially, where you quoted Parker Palmer speaking of: “the kind of love that neither avoids nor invades.”

    It is a common thing for people who don’t know how to help to hang back and avoid. This might partly be due to fear of the other’s difficulty, but I hope it is more due to a desire not to invade, which is at heart wonderfully respectful. In either instance, fear or desire, it seems the only way through for the one who wants to support another is to open to the Holy, lean into the arms of God, receive the strength and love that will strengthen both the supporter and the person with the difficulty. Then it becomes a truly shared burden, so becomes a little lighter.

    I gratefully take with me the question: What helps me open and lean and receive?

  2. Thank you for reminding me, Stephanie, of how I might better/best help someone experiencing deep pain.
    I remember that when my mother was dying, aged 97, I realized that the best gift I could give her was to open myself to God as fully as I could so that she and together might access that deep place inside me/us where only love and life and peace and joy and freedom and strength reign.
    As you said, at times like these words don’t help anyway.



      SIMPLY “BE.”
      ~~~IN GOD AND WITH GOD~~~



  3. I have entered into a listening and praying relationship with someone from my congregation who is suffering. We meet weekly and will continue to do so until she feels she can move ahead on her own. The truth that God suffers alongside us is profoundly comforting and mystifying to me! We have gospel stories which tell how Jesus, the Word of God, grieved, resisted temptation and suffered. Can you help me with other scripture where God suffers alongside us?

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