There is a story told in the Middle East about how to help someone who’s drowning.
A man had fallen into a river. He was not much of a swimmer and was in real danger of drowning. A crowd of concerned people wanted to rescue him. They were standing at the edge of the water, each of them urgently shouting out to him: “Give me your hand, give me your hand!”
The man was battling the waves and ignored their urgent plea. He kept going under and was clearly struggling to take another breath.
A saintly man walked up to the scene. He too cared about the drowning man. But his approach was different. Calmly he walked up to the water, waded in up to his knees, glanced lovingly at the drowning man, and said: “Take my hand.”
Much to everyone’s surprise, the drowning man reached out and grabbed the saint’s hand. The two came out of the dangerous water. The drowning man sat up at the edge of the water, breathing heavily, looking relieved, exhausted, and grateful.
The crowd turned towards the saint and asked: “How were you able to reach him when he didn’t heed our plea?” The saint calmly said: “You all asked him for something, his hand. I offered him something, my hand. A drowning man is in no position to give you anything.”
Let us remember not to ask anything of someone who is drowning.
So if you are that saintly soul, if you want to reach out to someone who is struggling to stay above water, go to them. But don’t ask them to give you their hand. Instead, offer them your hand. Don’t ask for their heart, offer them your heart. Offer them your ear, your love, your shoulder. Release your friends, your family, from the shame of their brokenness. Let them know that you love them through the brokenness, because of the brokenness, and God-willing, after the brokenness.
Free your loved ones of the energy they spend to hide their brokenness from you. Free them of the shame of coming to you as they are. Let them spend that energy on surviving, on healing, on thriving. Let us love one another as we are, so that we may become all we are meant to be.
Omid Safi, How to Reach out to Someone who is Suffering