loving from afar, practically.

You know it when you see it coming. The tone of the voicemail. The dark-clouds-ahead Facebook status or tweet. The “hey, got a minute?” text. You know something is wrong. A break-up. A lost job. A divorce. An illness. A death. Or just a rough go of things.

Life, often, is not perfect. Relationships mean hanging in there through thick and thin. So, naturally, we wonder what we can do.

If it were a friend who lived nearby? Ideas flow. Grab coffee, make a casserole, offer to babysit, show up with brownies and wine, run errands, vacuum the house . . . the list goes on.

We hope and pray and think and think some more. All good things, whether the friend lives across the street or across the world. But when a friend is struggling and lives far away, though, the what-to-do gets a bit more challenging.

Tears are flowing freely these days, friends. And not just for me: most are tears for friends. Many of them don’t live in the neighborhood. I rack my brain and wonder how I might love them well. Some of my friends are facing this challenge right now too, with those they love suffering far away. In years past, I’ve been on the receiving end of the equation: needing a little extra love myself.

Clearly, we wish we could be there. But what if we can’t? How can we love, practically, from afar?

Sometimes, excuses, reasons and concerns stop us from acting. But here’s the long and short of it, friends: They need you. Now, more than ever. So stop worrying about what you’re doing, if it’s right or if it’s wrong, and just do it already.

Other times, we shy away from these kind gestures because we’re just not sure. What if things get better? What if it’s too late? I don’t want my friend to feel bad? If things continue to go downhill for this friend, you will be glad you took action. And if things improve (which you’re hoping and praying they do), then smile big and be glad you did it anyway. This is the kind of stuff we ought to do for each other no matter what life looks like, yes?

Love fully and love well. Here are a few ways to do it . . .

The person is still the person, trauma or not. So send a reminder of that. Maybe a book in that person’s favorite genre. Or burn a CD (so 2002, I know) of songs you’ve been meaning to share. Or pick up a few magazines that you know your friend always eyes in the supermarket checkout line. Think along the lines of something you should do because you care, not because the person is sick/sad/suffering/etc.

A little smile goes a long way in taking our minds off things, yes? Find an old photo from years back, maybe when you were awkward teenagers or goofball kiddos. (Bonus points for 80s hair.) Send it along with a note, saying how much you treasure those memories. This encourages your friend to focus on the positive. Keep the note short and stay sentimental, but not sappy. If it makes your friend cry, then so be it. But make a smile the goal.

Bake something, if you like to bake. It’s going to arrive better than a casserole would, I promise. Might I suggest banana bread (or pumpkin bread, my fave)? Baked treats are nice for them, but consider it a gift that keeps on giving: by sharing these treats with well-wishers, you’re empowering your friend to feel hospitable when guests drop by, as they inevitably do.

Use the phone. I mean, the phone part of the phone. Dial their number and say hello. It doesn’t need to be long, but a five minute check-in can make their morning, afternoon or evening. And don’t be shy about what’s happening in your own life too, even if it’s less dramatic by comparison. We all want to know what our friends are up to, even when we’re struggling, yes? (Then make a note in your calendar to call again in a week or two. Follow up, follow up, follow up.)

A note, from the heart, can be so meaningful. If you’re buying a card, buy a card, but please PLEASE do something besides just signing your name. Why? Because that’s probably all that is in their mailbox these days: Hallmark and some John Hancocks. Even a simple “Thinking of you!” makes things a little more personal. Write a line or two about what the person means to you. Thank him for the role he has played in your life, and be specific. When life more closely resembles Eeyore than Tigger, solid encouragement goes a long way.

No matter what you do, be sweet, generous and kind. And two cliches: Less is more + It’s the thought that counts. Really and really.

How have you loved from afar? Or been loved from afar?

Linking up today with Joy in this Journey and Life:Unmasked.

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15 thoughts on “loving from afar, practically.

  1. Thanks for the reminders. It’s so easy to just think that you might say the wrong thing if you call, write, or visit.

    • Yes, absolutely. I struggle with that so much. I think the key is to not let that fear get in the way of loving people well.

  2. We have been on the receiving end of being “loved on” during difficult times three times (unexpected death of son, husband’s cancer, and being on pregnancy bedrest for 18 weeks with other children at home).

    My sister struggled with living across the country (and across the world when our son died) and not being able to help in person. She sent occasional “gifties” and colorful craft supplies based on my interests. But the absolute most precious gift was when she called me every week at the same time just to talk…And that actually made her a bigger presence in my life than the sporadic contact I had with many of my local friends!

    Yes, the “little things” really do count!

    • Katie, thank you! I’ve been thinking about this so much recently and I feel like it’s always a challenge, but always well worth it when we step out there in faith.

  3. I HAVE been loved from afar, by a very wonderful young lady who is sending me great spiritual encouragement via texts. It’s times like these that we need to point each other to Christ, because ultimately the best way we can comfort one another is to tell each other where to find true and lasting comfort. Thanks, dear. Also, speaking of comfort (food), I posted. Check it. I know you can’t have gluten much anymore, so maybe we can make this and figure out creative things to put it on? How about…polenta?

    • Love you dearly, chica. I was thinking of you when I wrote the bread one. I may or may not have plans to make you some almond bread in the near future 🙂

      You know, I can’t have a ton of gluten these days, but it’s all about making good choices. Half a slice of bread, for example, instead of the whole slice. I recently read about quinoa cakes with eggs on top too & want to try that. And polenta would be ah-mazing! At some point in the next year, I want to take on the challenge that is gluten-free baking. No clue where to find this thing called xanthan gum. I need me some Whole Foods.

    • So glad, friend! Please let me know if you put any of these ideas into action. Would love to feature that on the blog if so 🙂

  4. Oh, Sarah. Sometimes I read your blog just to restore my faith in humanity…or at least in my ability to have quality friends.

    I happen to think that when your friends need you the most, that’s when you show what you’re truly made of in a friend. And I love that part of friendship – not the my-friends-having-problems part, but the being-there-for-them part. I really excel at that, as long as I know about it.

    But you’re completely right. When you live so far away, you don’t always know what’s going on with your friends. Especially when they’re trying to hide it from everyone, which is when they need you the most.

    We just have to make sure that those connections don’t die out because of the long space between friends. And this blog, lovely lady, is a wonderful how-to on keeping healthy friendships. 🙂

  5. I fell off the face of the world to a friend because of very selfish reasons a few years back. We reconnected by sending each other music we missed out on while not having contact. The burning a CD thing, it’s probably one of the sweetest things I can think of and means a whole lot for something that is just a bit of plastic and sharpie.

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