Would you like to know how to help the people around you who are discouraged, or anxious, or lonely? It easier than you think, and you’ll learn how to get started in this post.
We worry we’ll say the wrong thing, or we won’t know what to say at all, so sometimes we avoid the people around us who are hurting. Their crisis, or loss, or suffering makes us uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. We can lean in and be there for people, and in the helping, find ourselves helped.
How God will Strengthen the People on your Friendship Bench
What is the Friendship Bench?
Dixon Chibanda is one of 12 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe.
After losing a patient to suicide because of the distance between where he lived and where she was, Dr. Chibanda knew his country needed more help.
He realized that there is a cadre of people who could stand in the gap in his country of 16 million people and only a dozen psychiatrists.
These wise, faithful people were grandmothers.
They could be trained like peer support counselors to meet six times with women and have a conversation based on problem-solving therapy. They conducted a study and discovered that people were significantly helped by having intentional conversations with these grandmothers.
Dr. Chibanda calls it the Friendship Bench.
Click the picture to get to his TED talk, then come back to see how God can put a friendship bench in your life.
You can have a Friendship Bench
We can be grandmothers who are equipped to have intentional conversations. We can provide peer support to other grandmothers who are struggling with painful circumstances in their families.
With the right questions, prayer, and loving support, we can help others.
We can also be grandparents who know how to have intentional, supportive, problem solving conversations with our grandchildren.
We trust the Holy Spirit, and our accumulated wisdom, to have good conversations with our grandkids, but what if we really knew how to help them work through the issues they face?
3 Ways God will Strengthen Others Around You
If you are a grandparent, then you have friends who have burdens. Like the grandmothers in Zimbabwe, you can help.
1. Pay attention to the needs around you.
Proverbs 27: 10 says,
“Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”
When friends or neighbors are in crisis, help meet their physical needs.
Provide a meal the old-fashioned way by bringing it, or the new way by ordering it for them through Door Dash or GrubHub.
Wait with them at the hospital. Keep in touch with texts and phone calls.
If the need is long-term, provide the gift of refreshment.
Take her to lunch, ask questions, and just listen. Give your friend a safe place to express all that she is feeling. Verbalizing her pain, and your compassionate listening, will lighten her burden.
2. Improve your relational skills.
Counseling. Coaching. Mentoring. Discipling. Speaking into others’ lives. We know we’re supposed to, but sometimes it goes better than other times.
A few of us have spiritual gifts of encouragement, teaching, or wisdom that spiritually empower us to say what people need to hear. A very few of us have professional training to know how to help people move toward health and happiness.
Most of us have many years of trial and error. When it goes well, the people around us get stronger and our relationships get better. When it goes poorly, relationships and strength falter.
What if you decided that you have a friendship bench next to you. It isn’t an actual bench, but it is a real place next to you for people to talk and find perspective, healing, and motivation.
And what if you decided that you want to get better at helping people on your friendship bench.
There are books you can read, online courses to take, podcasts to listen to, small groups to participate in. You could decide that this year, and next year, and the next that you will grow in your ability to help people on your friendship bench.
Our Biblical calling comes from 1 Peter 3:15:
“let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so you may know how to answer everyone.”
This is the slow and steady plan for being used by God in other grandparents’ and in your grandkids’ lives.
Or you could go all in…
3. Become a peer support specialist.
Peer support is usually in the context of addiction or mental health issues. It’s people who have “been there, done that” helping others to make progress in recovery.
But it’s not just people in addiction and mental health recovery who are being equipped to help their peers. First responders are equipped to provide peer support for each other. And teenagers are, too.
So why not grandparents?
What if we were able to go beyond bringing a meal, providing a listening ear, or listening to a podcast, and we knew how to have a therapeutic conversation with our friend?
What if along with knowing the Bible, and praying, we knew how to ask good questions and be good listeners to help our friends take positive steps. What if we knew how to have a series of conversations, and we knew what outcomes we were looking for, and when to refer them to professional help?
What if there was training that focused on equipping grandparents to help each other live victoriously in the last few decades of our lives?
You may have noticed that resources for grandparents are sparse, but we’re entering a new era with a new generation of grandparents. God will provide what we need to strengthen others.
In the meantime, we applaud the work of Dr. Chibanda and his colleagues in Zimbabwe.
To recap how to strengthen the people on your friendship bench:
- A friendship bench is a term coined by Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist in Zimbabwe, to picture the intentional conversations grandmothers have with people who are hurting.
- You can have a friendship bench, figuratively, by having caring conversations with the people around you.
- Three ways God will strengthen others around you are: pay attention to the needs around you, develop your relational skills, and consider learning more about how to have productive conversations.
Lord, I want to help people who are hurting, but I’m not sure I say the right things. Would you show me what to say, and who to help. Show me how I can have a “friendship bench” where people in my life, especially my grandchildren, can find encouragement and a little wisdom. Amen.