What NOT to say to a friend going through a hard time
of reading - words
When you know someone who is going through difficult times, you would like to help them with your actions and words.
"The call to say something does not mean that everything we say will necessarily be good and useful. It is important to know what not to say. Sometimes we may be tempted to react to a person's suffering with thoughtless platitudes. Here are three examples of offensive words.
1) Don't say, "It could be worse."
Believe it or not, it's only the first half of a horrible comment, like, "It could be worse, imagine you broke both your legs!"
We have strange ways of encouraging each other.
Indeed, everything could be worse, and in that sense, the comment is correct. But as we suffer, a comforter adds to this suffering by saying that it could be worse.
Such a comment is totally inconsiderate. God himself would never say or approve of such a thing. God never compares our present sufferings to that of another or to the worst case scenario. Never. Even when the friend in question says such a thing about his own suffering, it does not give us the right to join him. On the other hand, this may well be an opportunity to warn him.
"Certainly, your suffering doesn't seem as serious as ______'s, but God doesn't compare your suffering to that of others."
Such comparisons could prevent us from expressing ourselves openly before the Lord about this suffering. We may be tempted to consider it as a simple whining, which it certainly is not.
Therefore, even if things could indeed be worse, it is never appropriate to say such a thing or to let others say it about their situation. God is never indifferent to our difficulties and neither should we be.
2) Be careful not to say: "What does God want to teach us by all this?" or "God makes all things work for your good."
These clichés are biblical in the sense that God teaches us, indeed, in our suffering and that He makes everything work for our good (Rom 8:28). C. S. Lewis is right to say that suffering is the megaphone that God uses to awaken a deaf world. But comments like that have hurt a lot of people. Let us therefore undertake never to use it. Let us consider some of the problems that could arise from this misuse of certain passages of the Bible:
Such reactions are far from true compassion. Will you have compassion for someone who is "learning a lesson"? Probably not.
These answers tend to be condescending: "I wonder when you'll finally understand."
These responses indicate that suffering is an enigma that can be solved. God has something specific in mind: it is up to us to guess what it is. Welcome to a cosmic game of twenty questions... if you don't find the right answer soon enough, the suffering is likely to intensify.
Such reactions suggest that we have acted in a way that triggers this suffering.
Such reactions mitigate God's invitation to anyone who suffers: "Trust me."
In our efforts to help others, the risk is to over-interpret suffering. We then look for clues to decipher God's ways, as if suffering were a treasure hunt. Come to the end with the right answers and God will remove the pain. In the meantime, the search for answers is wrong from the beginning and will end badly. Suffering is not an intellectual question that requires an answer. This is a very personal matter: can I trust God? Does he hear? Suffering is a relational issue. This is the time to speak honestly to the Lord and to remind ourselves that it is through Jesus Christ, the suffering servant, that he gives a full revelation of himself. Only when we look to Christ can we know that God's love and our suffering can coexist.
3) Don't say, "If you need anything, call me anytime.
This comment seems slightly better than the two previous ones, because it is not quite a platitude. However, this kind and widespread formula reveals that we do not really know each other. People who are suffering usually do not know what they want or need. Therefore, they will not call us. So that comment is like saying, "I said something nice now, see you later." It shows no real attention given the needs and circumstances of the person suffering. She is not without knowing it.
Instead of making those kinds of comments, we could ask him, "What can I do to help?" Or (better), we could consider what needs to be done and simply do it.
Wise friends buy dog food, wash dishes, bring a meal, mow the lawn, babysit, clean, offer transportation to attend the small group meeting, slip under the door a note of encouragement and another, help pay medical bills and so on.
Such acts of love and service make life easier for the person who suffers. In fact, a meal is not just a meal. A helping hand for the household is not just a time saving. These gestures communicate to the suffering person: "I remember you"; "I often think of you"; "you are not forgotten"; "you are on my heart"; "I love you". The time spent developing creative strategies is the power behind these acts. Clearly, it is the incomparable love that reproduces the strategic planning of the redemptive mission of the Triune God. He planned and acted before we even knew our real needs.
Despite our clear idea of what has helped us in our own suffering, we find it difficult to do the same when we seek to love others. This explains our clumsiness and our sometimes hurtful attempts. We don't always talk to others about how we would like to be addressed."
And you? Do you always hear good things to encourage you? Have you ever made mistakes in trying to help? Any advice to share?