What Not to Say When Someone is Hurting
When sitting with someone who is in pain, it can be tempting to give a cliché response when we don’t know what else to say. Although you may believe your intentions are pure, generally you aren’t actually helping the friend who is in crisis and can often be making a comment that is actually self-serving.
Here is a list of things to shy away from when someone is in the midst of a harrowing event.
1. God will never give you more than you can handle.
This isn’t even an accurate statement. And to be honest, what does it even mean? That your current challenge becomes easy for you? That you don’t ever fail? Is this dependent upon your own skillset and abilities? Or are you making a comment about God’s grace?
Life can and absolutely does give us more than we can handle. Is God’s grace sufficient for each of our needs in different seasons? Duh! But this statement feels like a copout and a “this is the right thing to say” in this situation type of thing because really, you don’t know what else to say.
2. God is good, all the time.
While this statement is 100% accurate, saying it to someone who is in the middle of a crisis is unfortunate timing. If someone has just found out a loved one died, they need your presence, not your preaching.
3. Maybe God needed to get your attention.
Does He use our specific life circumstances to shape us into his likeness and for His glory? You betcha. But this statement implies that you’ve done something wrong; therefore God made something terrible happen to you.
4. God needed another angel in Heaven.
The isn’t even a biblically accurate statement. Don't say it.
5. Have you prayed about it?
For the love! Yes, while I’m already feeling beaten down by this life circumstance please shame me into feeling like I wasn’t spiritual enough! Or that somehow this was God’s punishment. (insert eye roll here)
6. I'll pray for you.
Instead of offering to pray later, maybe consider praying right then and there. This can be a well-intended statement, and sometimes it is. But when it’s said out of a place of discomfort within ourselves or a way to stop someone from expressing their feelings, it’s self-serving. And let’s be honest - if you don’t have any intention of actually praying for the person, don’t say it.
What do I do instead?
Rule of thumb: Don’t speak if you don’t know what to say. Just love. Because you know what? Love never returns void.
When we have an agenda of trying to fix someone or say the right thing, we are actually trying to meet our own needs. To truly love someone is to let them be and feel exactly as they are in the moment without trying to change them or their circumstances.
Whether it’s intentional or not, saying “God just wanted one more angel” is actually communicating to the other person that they don’t have a reason to be upset or they should stop crying.
I sit with a lot of hurting people and what I hear makes the most profound difference in those awkward moments is when someone will just exist with you. There is something about sitting with a friend, and not trying to fix them or the situation. Allowing yourself to hurt alongside someone communicates to them that they are loved and aren’t alone.
If you find yourself uncomfortable or anxious about what to do or say in an emotionally charged situation, remind yourself that you’ve now just made it all about you. Worst case scenario, tell someone you don’t know what to say but that you are here for them in whatever way they need.
Try asking your friend - How could I best support you right now? What could I do to show you how loved you are? Etc. If they don’t know (and sometimes in crisis it's hard to know what you need), then do what you’d want someone to do for you in that situation. Clean the house, make them dinner, babysit the kids. In tough times sometimes people need your help without having to ask for it.
At the end of the day we are called to love, so do just that.