How to Help a Friend in Need

I don’t mean to be sad this morning, but the day is dreary and I am homesick. Zach and I just returned from San Antonio for my brother-in-law’s college graduation. Being in “the land of the in-laws” always gets me thinking about my family in Montana and Washington. How are they doing? What are they up to? My brother, a forest service worker, turned twenty-five on Friday and trekked thirty miles into the backcountry. He’ll only be available via snail-mail until the snow flies. He’s out there early for orientation and probably fly fishing the chocolate milk rivers.

Thinking about Montana and fly fishing always gets me thinking about Paul Maclean, that tragic character who dies in a gambling scuffle. His brother, Norman, observes his deterioration from a distance. When they find time to fish the family river, Norman attempts to reach out and help Paul, to help him escape his debt and his addiction. Norman never knows the right thing to say. Paul never accepts help, but much is revealed in their mutual attempt to help Norman’s brother-in-law, Neal. He’s a Californian with a drinking problem, among other things.

I [Norman] asked, “Do you think you should help him?”

“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”

“How?” I asked.

“By taking him fishing with us.”

“I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.”

“Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” (47)

Though Paul is referring to Neal, he is also referring to himself. Though he cannot overcome his need for the poker table in Lolo, he appreciates Norman’s concern and attempts to help him.

Perhaps you have a Paul Maclean in your life, a friend that walks the path of destruction. Chances are this friend knows full well the path he or she is on, but feels powerless to change direction. You might wonder at your friend’s refusal to change, even though they see clearly the destruction their choices, addictions, behaviors, etc. are causing. Consider the shame they might feel in their current situation. Consider that they might be so far gone they don’t know how to ask for help.

Consider Psalm 107:17-20.

“Some became fools through their rebellious ways

and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 

They loathed all food

and drew near the gates of death.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he saved them from their distress. 

He sent out his word and healed them;

he rescued them from the grave.”

It is hard to watch a friend walk through a fire they themselves started. But take heart, the Lord will save and heal those who suffer…after they call out for His help. Maybe this worries you. Your friend won’t even accept your offering of help. How can you expect that someday they might call out to the Lord for help? All we can really know is that the Lord hears us when we cry out to Him (Psalm 34:17). And He is faithful to hear our prayers. And we’ve been taught that prayer changes things. Love changes things, too.

Maybe all Paul wanted was to fly fish with his brother. That sort of quality time translated to love for Paul. In the midst of his debt and addiction, he craved love. What sort of quality time translates to love for your friend? Try spending time with your friend and drop the agenda to help them. Focus instead on the Lord. Pray for your friend. Pray that soon they will call out to the Lord and be saved. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. At times it is appropriate to call your friend out on their behavior and loving speak the truth. At other times it is best to be still and listen. Or just be still and be there.

And a few happy photos to cheer up your Monday:


My brother-in-law (far right) jumping into the San Marcos River. That’s what recent Texas State graduates do, I learned.


My nephew suspended mid-air before the big San Marcos River jump.


This one is for my sister-in-law. Yes, they really do clear trail the old-fashioned way.

(The first photo is a prize-winning photo my brother captured whilst out fly fishing.)

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