The Most Practical Example of Living Art


A friend shares a difficult struggle.

Tears well up in her eyes as she talks. The pain runs deep, maybe more than she even knows. As I listen, I’m aware of my desire to be helpful, to make it better, to offer some words of hope.

But is this really what she needs most?

As I listen to my own discomfort because of my inability to help, I realize I’m thinking more of me than of her.

Is it possible to stay my attention on the person I’m with more than perseverate on what my response will be to her?

As she continues to talk, I confront all of my own mixed motives, my own self-reliant tendency. Unmoving and still listening, I offer my discomfort up to the Lord.

I am aware of this – I wish I could fix it. What is the right thing to say? I want to be a technician.

As I silently confess my addiction to usefulness, I recognize a new obsession growing: a deep desire to know her, to hear what she is saying now, to learn something I didn’t know before.

The earlier question, How can I help her? is changing into a new question, How can I see her? 

How will Immanuel show himself right now, not just for her in her pain but for me in my self-obsession?

God with us is big enough to handle us both.

When I release my obsession with finding a cure, I can embrace the desire to be curious. This person, this friend, is not a project or an assignment. She is an image bearer, a lyric, a poem. The color of her pain runs dark and she needs some time to face it. This is holy ground, and her process can’t be rushed, dissected, or figured out.

I am aware of my desire to try to force her to see the hope and the light. But I realize this is self-serving. I need to make peace with her questions and allow the darkness to do its deepest work.

For me to be an artist in this moment means to refuse to try to control her and to create space for our conversation to breathe.

Am I willing to let her be a mystery?

Am I willing to sit beside her without giving in to the pressure to fix her?

Am I willing to let her wrestle without quoting Scripture or forcing prayer?

Am I willing to walk away from our conversation more uncomfortable and with more questions than when we began?

This is day 28 of 31 Days of Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series. Today’s post is modified from Chapter 12 of A Million Little Ways. 

If you would like to have each new post delivered into your inbox for free, simply enter your email address here and click blog posts.

If you’re following along with us in the book club, Chapter 3 discussion is up at Bloom. You can watch the video here and join us in the comments there for discussion.


  1. says

    I know the desire, the need to ‘fix things’, but have learned that the most important thing in a situation where a friend is hurting, is just to be there, listening, and letting the person know that you care. Holding them while they cry, with no judgement, just love.

  2. says

    Wonderful post, Emily. I feel this tension often. As I read your post, I am reminded of the words of George Barna at Re:Write…”Never waste a good crisis.” I loved what he had to say about the role of brokenness in spiritual growth. And the fact that it isn’t enough to just know about brokenness. We must experience it. I know my greatest times of growth have been when God brought me to my knees. And it helps me to remember this when I’m with others who are hurting.

  3. Kelli says

    Emily, I had a very similar situation last week where a friend was sharing with me and I desperately wanted to help her see the Truth, to find the Light. As much as I wanted to, I knew that I couldn’t fix her. I said a few things to her in conversation and later that day I bought her Grace for the Good Girl. But your piece here about just knowing her instead of fixing her opens my eyes to showing her grace in a new way. Because isn’t the same true about Christ? How much more can we experience His grace when we just sit and get to know Him instead of taking matters into our own hands. Powerful words today. Thank you!

  4. says

    This idea is what we want from people, but what we rarely extend to each other! Listen, show you see the hurt, pain, and trouble, and check up on the struggle.

    Hard times are reality…Sometimes words aimed at fixing or shedding light only make it seem like we’re eager to dismiss them altogether.

    I would love to hear more about some ways to be the kind of comforter and friend you’re suggesting here! :)

  5. CyndaP says

    Oh my goodness. I never thought about my obsession to help being more about me than about the person that I want to help. This is going to take some time to process.

    • Holly says

      I’m with you CyndaP! I like to figure out how things work by asking questions (people included)… That leads me to offering advice and input, when perhaps, I should simply be listening… More processing on my part as well Emily!

  6. Jessica says

    Several years ago I worked as a hospice social worker. It took me a long time to quiet that inner voice wondering what I could say to the person in front of me who was suffering. I was learning then and am still learning now how to be truly present so that the other person doesn’t feel so alone in their suffering. That’s one reason why I appreciate reading your blog so much. I can feel your whole presence through the words you write. And I don’t feel so alone in my own struggle. Thank you!

  7. says

    I’ve been in this same space with a couple of different friends here recently. Outwardly listening but inwardly praying as they’ve poured their hearts out to me… their pain, mess, questions, uncertainty, doubt, and fear. All of it. It’s true, it’s holy ground when someone bears their souls to you like that. Really. You take your shoes off. The temptation to fix and heal, to have an answer, and to bring relief is great, but I know that only Jesus can do those things. My heart and prayer at those times, is to stand in that space with them, to be beside in the mess and mystery, and to simply love and point them to Jesus in whatever way he guides. Beautiful post… Thank you, Emily.

  8. Sabra Penley says

    Wow! You’ve just described me! The Lord has been trying to teach me to listen well. And…He’s just used you to help me see another side of it. Thank you.

  9. Babs C. says

    I’m convicted. Recognizing my own deepest desires to be heard, be seen, really known, loved, accepted and remembered. Do my friends (or anyone crossing my path) deserve any less? Of course not. In fact, they “deserve” more than I can give even on my best days. Thank you Lord, for your powerful grace that enables me and the beautifully honest description that Emily delivered exposing the realities of common situations we all face. Help mme choose to be more like you today. May I see your beloved – lost & found sheep – as you do and be willing to be uncomfortable in trusting you.

    Emily – my deepest heart-felt gratitude for you and your art-filled voice, sharing honestly and inspiring encouragement in this community!

  10. says

    Wow was that though-provoking and convicting. I am now picturing the face of a specific friend, and next time, instead, I will concentrate on really seeing her, knowing her, loving her.

  11. Sarah Schulz says

    Ah, this is beautiful. I love how God is big enough for both… I have long tried to practice hearing rather than fixing, and longed with everything in me for other people to do the same for me.

    Now I am learning to trust God to give me back myself in wholeness even when other people completely fail to resist their urge to fix or correct me.

    The radical grace of God, creating us over and over again.

  12. says

    One of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer a couple weeks ago. It is so hard to sit with her without jumping in with an encouraging thought or an offer to help “make things better.” What’s even more difficult is the idea that those desires might be driven by m desire to–as you say–be useful. But her cancer? It isn’t about me at all–it’s not an opportunity for me to shine as a friend. It’s about what God is doing with her. It’s humbling to have my self-centeredness revealed in this way.

  13. says

    wonderful post — reminds me of Margaret Feinberg’s post on Facebook that I read today about the three things you don’t say to someone who is struggling with illness. I struggle with an illness that leaves me in pain and yet, I fall into the same ‘fix it ‘ trap and I know better. Good reminders.

  14. says

    I have generally always been a fixer, as a nurse it comes as second nature but now I just need to be listened to, not fixed for I too am in a painful place of grief following the loss of my dearest friend. I have learned how to be present with bereaved families and just welcome those who are happy to be present with me without feeling the need to say or do anything. Thank God for the most helpful comforter of all, the Holy Spirit.

    Alice’s most recent blog post

  15. Red says

    CRAZY good post! Wow. So much to process and think about. I can’t tell you how much this series has meant to me.
    I am a former art teacher. Now I am not teaching art…I am living it. What beauty :)

  16. joanna says

    Dear Emily,
    Thank you for this beautiful reminder post.
    Truly paying attention, being present, and listening is a gift.
    I am reminded of the words of Simone Weil:

    Attention is the rarest and purist form of generosity.

    Thank you!

  17. says

    Now that is tough stuff right there!
    Years ago a friend was going through a divorce and we were meeting for lunch. I asked my husband, “What am I supposed to say to her?” And the wise man that he is said, “Just listen.”
    And now you are raising the bar. This is more than “just” listening….oh, there’s that word again! Listen…yes, but to see…and to let God’s presence be seen. Wow, that’s a whole different ball game.
    I am smitten with this series. Thanks for sharing.

  18. says

    This is profoundly true for most of us. It is difficult to get inside someone else’s pain without trying to resolve it. I can relate from both sides of the story. Like you, I tend to want to fix things. But like your friend, the last couple of years have brought a good deal of pain. Often I have tried to hide it, but there are times when the bottle pops open and the foam spills over. I can see my dear loved ones processing and wondering what to say or how to handle the situation.

    My dear husband, wanting to “fix” things will try to tell me why things aren’t so bad or how I can view the situation differently. And of course he is very right in what he is saying. But sometimes the healing comes not in the answers, but in the understanding. I am not speaking of unbiblical sympathy that encourages wrong responses, but the deep empathy that comes from truly hearing someone’s brokenness. The love and compassion that is a result. And then, if appropriate, the answers and scriptures.

  19. says

    We absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.

    Would you offer guest writers to write content for you?
    I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on many of the
    subjects you write in relation to here. Again, awesome web log!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *