I posted and article back in January entitled, “Three Steps to Encouraging a Hurting Friend” , In it I described ways that we can really help someone that is going through a difficult situation. There are definite things that we can do to support someone in a positive way. I suggested: Being available, Being vulnerable, and Being audible. If we know someone that is hurting, being there for them, opening ourselves up to emotions and LISTENING, will go a long way in encouraging a friend.
Many times we desire to encourage someone and we don’t know what to say; We fear that the person we are trying to help may ask a question we can’t answer, or we might say something hurtful. Most times just being silent is the best policy. I would like to give some advice that will be most helpful, if we are going to say something, here are some suggestions of what not to say.
- Don’t compare pain-Many times people will, in an effort to show empathy, compare the pain they have experienced to what someone may be going through. The sentence may start off with, “That’s just like…” and by the time they are done talking it is nothing “just like.” Everyone experiences pain differently. Our son Johnny lived his entire life in pain, there were times when his pain must have been unbearable. Inevitably someone would come along and want to compare their pain with his, or the different types of medications he was on. Johnny, being deaf, could not fully express exactly what he was gong through to us, yet others seemed to be able to come up with a comparison. The truth is, your pain is your pain, someone else’s pain is theirs, there is no way to compare the two.
- Don’t say “I know how you feel” – This is closely related to my first point. We really have no idea what another person is going through. We may experience very similar circumstances, yet we all react differently to them. My wife and I have gone through exactly the same trials with our son, yet we both have reacted differently. We can relate to other peoples situations, yet never really understand what is going on in their hearts and minds. Much like comparing pain, it falls short when we are trying to be of comfort.
- Don’t try to preach to a broken heart – The Word of God will bring comfort to a person that is hurting…..in time. Bible truths like, Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” are a great comfort at the right time. However, when a person is in the midst of a deep trial, those words don’t bring much comfort. Reconciling our pain with God’s love is not always the easiest thing to do. Especially while you are navigating life with a broken heart. Again, listening helps more than trying to fix something that we have no control over.
This is not a comprehensive list, just a few suggestions to help us avoid saying things that, many times we think helps, but really leaves the hearer scratching their heads. The best advice I can give is for us to live by, James 1:19 “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:”