In last week’s post I talked about some really common, but incredibly unhelpful, things we say to people who are going through tough times. I won’t go over all the reasons, but here’s the recap of unhelpful things.
- I understand what you’re going through.
- That’s just like what happened to ________
- Let me tell you about ___________
- Everything happens for a reason.
- The Bible says everything happens for a reason.
- God won’t put more on you than you can handle.
So, what should you say to someone walking through dark days?
Here are my top six that I have found to be most helpful whether I have been on the receiving end or the delivering end.
“I’m so sorry you are going through this.” I’ll admit that a few times I’ve made the mistake of just saying, “I’m sorry.” That’s not bad or hurtful, but I’ve had more than one person respond, “Why are you sorry? You didn’t cause this.” I wasn’t apologizing, but I didn’t communicate well that I was hurting because they were hurting.
When we say this, we don’t mean that we’re feeling their pain. We don’t understand what they are going through. We do understand that they are hurting and we want to acknowledge it without minimizing it through cliches or easy answers.
“That must really be painful.” Sometimes what people need more than anything else is to be heard. They don’t want us to fix them or give them answers. They just want to know that their struggle is not invisible or inconsequential. More than once, I have had people say, “Thank you” in response to that simple acknowledgment.
“I’m here if you need me.” When we communicate to someone that they don’t have to walk through this valley alone, we give them an incredible gift. Just don’t say it if you aren’t really available. Saying those words and not meaning them is worse than avoiding the person entirely.
“I’m praying for you.” Almost everyone appreciates prayer. Even people who don’t care anything about going to church tend to be in favor of prayers offered on their behalf. But like personal availability, the promise of prayers should be kept.
“Could I pray with you right now?” That’s better than “Let’s pray.” Unless the person came asking us to pray, it is best to give them the gift of asking for permission. I’ve never had anyone refuse, but asking permission communicates that we are here for them and will take this to God on their behalf. If anyone ever refuses prayer in the moment, my plan is to say, “That’s ok. Just know that I will be praying for you.”
“I’ve been thinking about you.” Whether spoken in person or delivered via written note or electronic communication, this reminds a struggling friend that they have not been forgotten.
I said in the headline of this post that I promise these words will help. I cannot guarantee how a hurting person will respond in the moment. Sometimes those in pain lash out at everyone. But I really do promise that these words will help, whether we see immediate results or not.
How can I promise that? Because our lives and our hurts matter to God and these words are strong reminders of that reality.