When bad things happen to those you care for, it’s hard to know what to say. You desperately want to show them you love them and you desperately want to fix it. But you can’t – and you don’t know how. In your head, you run through the options:
‘I know how you feel’. Except, wait. You don’t. You haven’t lost your mother. You’ve not received a terrifying diagnosis. You don’t know what it’s like to fight to addiction. You have no idea how it feels.
‘You’ll feel better soon’. You might. But you might not. Scars can fade, but they rarely disappear. And sometimes they take a long time to heal.
‘You shouldn’t be feeling this way’. Oh really? Think of Job. He cries out to God and questions his very existence. But it’s not his despair that God rebukes. It’s the glib advice of his mates!
‘Other people have it worse’. They might do. But suffering is not on a sliding scale: and guilt is not comfort.
‘You need to pull yourself together’ (Part One). Ok. Why? What’s wrong with feeling sadness or being carried for a bit? Who is it that can’t handle the emotion: them – or you?
‘You need to pull yourself together’. (Part Two). For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. But you’ve left out the most important part of your sentence, which is where you explain how. So unless you’ve got both, maybe keep this pearl to yourself.
‘This happened because…’ Even if you know the answer, even if it’s good, this is almost certainly not the time. More likely you don’t know the answer; and your explanation will make them feel a million times worse.
‘Stay strong’. Maybe what the person really needs is permission to be weak.
‘You should have more faith’. We all need more faith. But faith is not like an extra portion of spinach: something you whip out like Berocca, to give you a boost. Faith does not come by will-power but by hearing the good news, so if you want to see faith, be a bearer of gospel comfort not spiritual pressure.
Sometimes, we need sympathy more than advice. Silence instead of speech. Prayer instead of practicalities. And to be held instead of helped.
I don’t know how this feels, but I know what it’s like to hurt. And if you want to, I’d like to try and understand.
I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know when you’ll start feeling better. It might take a long time. But if you want me to, I’ll walk with you, for as long as it takes. And Jesus will too.
I’m sorry – and I’m here.