We recently went through a very scary situation with our 4-year-old. He caught a somewhat common childhood virus, but things went completely awry and he ended up spending several days in the hospital.

Sitting there in that hospital room, I’ve never felt more helpless or more desperate. I was beside myself with panic. Is he going to be OK? Should I have brought him in sooner? What if things get worse? The questions and worst-case scenarios washed over me like a tidal wave of fear.

I know God’s character. I know that He ultimately holds all of our lives in His hands. But when it came to trusting that my baby would be OK? I’m sorry, but all the years of Bible studies, small groups, and teachings weren’t enough. I just couldn’t access any peace, only panic.

There was a time when I thought of telling someone I would pray for them as a bit of a cop-out. I mean sure, I am a Christian, and I know prayer can be powerful. I’ve never thought of prayer as wasted. Still, sometimes it also seemed like something people would say to avoid having to actually do anything. Don’t want to volunteer? Don’t want to bring a meal? Don’t want to (insert any helpful task)? “I’ll pray for you.”

When everything started unraveling with my son, friends kept texting me, asking me what they could do to help. Could they bring a meal? Could they help with our other kids? Could they bring us anything at the hospital? The fact is, there really wasn’t anything anyone could do except pray, and that’s what I told them.

I didn’t think I would find that very comforting, but truthfully, it was the one thing I did find some comfort in. These weren’t hollow offers of prayer. They were genuine prayers of love and concern for my son, for our family. When our prayer community said they were praying for us, I knew that was exactly what was happening.

To be clear, comforting does not mean comfortable. I felt like the pit of anxiety in my stomach was going to eat through the rest of my insides. My heart was pounding so hard, it was as if I could hear and feel it in my head. Their prayers were a tiny seed of comfort in a horrible time, and when there’s really no comfort to be had, well, you’ll grasp that seed and hang onto it for dear life.

I couldn’t yet rest in the knowledge that my son would be OK, but at the very least, I was able to know there were people out there praying on my son’s behalf, asking God for help. It helped me feel less alone, and there are few things lonelier than watching your whole world lying in a hospital bed, fighting a serious illness.

Forging community is hard. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes effort—all things that are sometimes in limited supply for parents—but it’s worth it. When life happens, it’s important to support one another. Sometimes that support is tangible—financial help, mowing a lawn, babysitting kids—but sometimes that support looks like prayers offered up in the night.

We need these people in our corner—people who can speak life into us when we are struggling, people who can point us toward what we know at a time when we’re just too scared to point ourselves.

We get to do this for others, too. I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt powerless to help someone who was suffering from afar. The only thing I could do was pray for them. So I did. When I say I will pray for someone, I do it right then and there, no waiting. I want them to know they are not alone with what they’re facing.

Parenthood is full of struggles. Sometimes the struggles are small in the scheme of things, but sometimes, the struggles are major and life-changing. We can’t really stop another’s pain. We can’t take away their load, only God can do that.

But we can help them carry it.

Charissa West

Charissa West is a high school classroom teacher turned stay-at-home, work-at-home mother. When she is not busy chasing around her three young sons, she works as an online teacher and freelance writer. She shares her honest, sarcastic, hilarious thoughts on parenting on her blog, The Wild, Wild West, with the goal of helping moms laugh at anything motherhood may throw at them.