I was going to title this post “Things you should never say to someone going through a tough time,” but it was too long for a headline. I might also call it, “Stupid things people say to hurting people,” but that seems particularly uncharitable and might actually qualify as something you shouldn’t say to someone.
But let me be clear: Words matter. When we are speaking to someone who is struggling, we can either increase or lighten their burden. And the fact that we meant it to be helpful and our heart was in the right place doesn’t really count for much if we add to their pain through careless words.
Some unhelpful things people say
“I understand what you’re going through.” Simply put, no, we don’t. We may have had a similar situation, but our situation was not theirs because we are not them. We can’t even understand their situation after walking a mile in their moccasins.
Here’s a related one: “That’s just like what happened to my cousin (or pick a relationship).” No, it’s not, for the same reasons.
A variation on the same theme is when we start telling another story, either our own or someone else’s, that we think is more dramatic than the one being told. Most of us would likely never say to a hurting person, “Well, that’s nothing! You should hear this!” We have a little more sensitivity than that (hopefully). But that’s what we communicate to them when we start another story. Unless they ask for another story, this conversation is about them.
Here’s another one: “Everything happens for a reason.” No one, let me repeat, NO ONE ever finds that helpful when they are in the middle of a tough time. Sometimes people console themselves with the thought that there must be a reason for this, but I’ve yet to meet someone who wishes someone would tell them that it happened for some vague reason. Unless we know, definitively, the reason and can tell them with assurance (which we can’t, by the way), this statement is not helpful and may actually come across as an accusation.
And please don’t say, “The Bible says everything happens for a reason.” The fact that the Bible actually doesn’t say that should be sufficient reason for not going there. In fact, playing the Bible card right out of the gate (how’s that for a mixed metaphor) may not be the best way to demonstrate the character of Jesus and share the gospel.
Furthermore, let’s not throw God under the bus with “God won’t put more on you than you can handle.” There are two problems with that. First and foremost, the Bible doesn’t say that. Anywhere. Secondly, a drowning person doesn’t need to be thankful they are not wearing cement shoes. They are still drowning and need to be thrown a lifeline.
Having eliminated some of the most common things people say, by identifying them as unhelpful, I should probably tell you some helpful things. But you are going to have to wait until next week for that.