Encouragement · Pain · Proverbs · Suffering

What Not to Say to Those Suffering

My friend, Jeremy Yeckley, famously once said, “What unites us as humanity is suffering.” He said that about seven years ago, and I won’t forget the moment he said it to the group he was speaking to. It has resonated with me since then.

We all deal with suffering. Which also means that we all are in a position from time to time dealing with others who are suffering.

The hardest part in dealing with someone suffering is not the willingness to be there for them – but wisdom in what to say to those suffering. When we see someone we love suffering we want to do many things for them. Sometimes it’s taking them a meal, praying for them, sending them an encouraging note, or just calling them to let them know that we are thinking about them.

But too often we avoid helping people out because we are perplexed at what we should actually say to them. We struggle with knowing the words that they need at that time. First, let me say that often we don’t need the perfect words, what we need is just words in general. Too often we are coming up with the perfect thing to say when in reality all that person needed was for us to say something – not the right something. This is not to say there are not wrong things to say, but that often people just need us to be there.

Second, we don’t always have to say something. Sometimes it’s just being there for that person that matters. About a decade ago I lost a friend to an accident. I remember going to the viewing and being the last person there because of a previous engagement.

By the time I was able to get there I was the only one at the funeral home. At the time it was just me, and my friend’s dad sitting in the room. I vividly remember being there for at least 20 minutes or so and only speaking about two or three sentences. Sometimes people don’t need words at all. They just need to know that they have someone else that they can lean on.

There is, however, one thing that we want to make sure we avoid saying to people who are suffering. (At least people who are suffering in the immediate.)  Sometimes the phrase, “Don’t worry, it will be better,” is the worst thing that we can say.

Now there are times that we should tell people this. It takes great wisdom to know the where and when to say such things. Many times this phrase is used immediately after a crisis.

Now often this phrase is true. In certain aspects things will be better. Time does not heal all wounds, but it can many wounds. Or while it may not heal them completely, it can often start to heal them throughout time.

So if this is a true statement, why should we avoid it? I think of the verse in Proverbs 25:20  which says, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”  Remember that Proverbs is general wisdom , and there will be occasions when we need to let people know that things will get better.

Sometimes when people are going through a crisis or have faced great loss, they do not need is a smiling face. This can often make life more bitter for them. It often may be misconstrued that , you are suffering greatly but everyone else is doing great. 

This also may make our suffering friend think that no one is suffering with him. Often what suffering people need are friends to sit in the ashes with them like Job’s friends.

Sympathy and empathy are more often needed as someone feels the pain with them. They need someone to help by hurting. They need people to feel pain with them so they have someone to go through that pain with. If we are singing songs to heavy hearts or say, “it will be better,“ we could only be hurting that person more. They may need time to grieve, especially at the beginning.

Have you ever had a time where someone has tried to cheer you up but you needed to go through a time of grieving? Do you have a family member, friend, coworker, neighbor, or fellow church member now who needs you to sit in the ashes with them? In what ways can you help someone suffering feel like they have someone suffering with them, and not just trying to cheer them up in a fake way?

Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes  or Googleplay.