But churches in general are less helpful in more tender situations such as miscarriage, divorce, separation, job loss and they totally don't have a track to run on for rape, addiction, final transfer to a nursing home, suicide or incarceration. Too often, if they are uncertain of how to respond to emotionally charged situations or how to help without harm, they take the road of, "least said soonest mended" leaving the most fragile and damaged to wonder if anyone notices much less cares. Or, sometimes they come to help wearing army boots in a bed of violets.
So let me make this suggestion: sometimes the only thing you can say is "I have some experience with this and you can call me to talk any time." It might work to say VERY gently, "I don't know what to say or how to help, but I'm available if I can drive you somewhere or clean bathrooms, whatever helps." But sometimes the BEST way is to drop off a small bag of fruit or a note with a hug or just to hold a hand, givng the person by your presence time in a safe place during their season of sorrow.
In fact a gentle note a week can be a great blessing. I learned this when a beloved friend lost her son and soon after was diagnosed with a fatal illness. As much as I loved her and longed to help, I just did not have a clue. So, as much a balm for my own sorrow as to support her, I sent a small "thinking of you" card each month for the rest of her so short life. I did not mention anything about her specific losses and offered no advice, but rather in that small way traveled with her a bit in her sorrow. She quietly mentioned one day that she appreciated it.
When I was widowed in my 40s my BFF came or called me every week for months. My gratitude is still overflowing. I did not have the energy to pick up the phone and call, so her willingness to gently accept a disproportionate responsibility for communication for that period was a gift beyond measure.
So, during this time of year, when money is tight and patience is at a premium, will you take a moment to acknowledge someone struggling? It may be a call or a note. It may be a smile and the gentle holding of a hand. It may be an offer to do an errand so a neighbor does not have to get out in the cold or to run the vacuum for someone with back problems. It might be a gentle invitation to a meal or an evening playing cards.
It may be something as priceless as taking the time to let your eyes meet their eyes, that they might see the acceptance and love of God through your kindness.