6 Things NOT to Say When Someone is Hurting (And What to Say Instead)

6 Things NOT to Say When Someone Is Hurting

My friend, fellow author and a The MOM Initiative mentor mom, Lindsey Bell, has a new book, Unbeaten, that I wanted to share with you this week. In today’s blog post, Lindsey shares about something I write about also in both Dear God, They Say It’s Cancer (The-Top-Thirteen-Things-to-Do-or-Say to Someone with Breast Cancer) and Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby? (The Top Fifteen Things Not to Say or Do to Someone Experiencing Infertility). It’s hard to know what to say, or not say, to someone who is in deep emotional or physical pain and so often we say something that hurts rather than helps. We’ve all been there: had something hurtful said to us, or said the wrong thing to someone else.

6 Things NOT to Say When Someone is Hurting (And What to Say Instead)

By Lindsey Bell

One of the most important aspects of mentoring is ministering to someone who is going through a hard time.

Unfortunately, there is often confusion as to what is best to say when someone is hurting.

We want to encourage people, not make their pain worse, but we don’t always know what to say.

After each of my four consecutive miscarriages, and during the years of waiting, testing, and grieving, people tried to say things to me that would comfort my broken heart. They meant well, just as most people do when they attempt to comfort someone who is hurting.

Unfortunately, many of their well-intention words did more harm than good.

Here are a few things you should never say to someone who is hurting (and a few ideas of things you can say instead).

  1. You just need to trust God (or God’s timing or God’s plan, etc.).

While this might be true, it’s not a helpful thing to hear right after a loss or while the pain is still fresh.

Instead, say, “I’m so sorry.”

And that’s it. You don’t have to offer answers to someone going through a hard time.

  1. There’s a reason for everything.

Really? Are you sure?

I guess this might be true. There probably is a reason for everything, but maybe that reason is simply that life stinks sometimes. Maybe that reason is that bad things happen.

Maybe there isn’t some theological, deep reason that God allowed this trial into their life. It’s possible, of course, there is a deeper reason. Maybe God is planning to use this situation in some really huge way.

But isn’t it also possible that this bad thing happened simply because it happened…not because it was a part of some huge plan?

Instead, say, “This stinks.”

  1. At least you have….

At least you have another child…. At least you had X number of years with him. At least you have …

I think the reason people say this is because they want the person who is hurting to focus on his or her blessings.

And though it’s certainly helpful to count your blessings, there’s also a time and place for grief. People need to grieve, and pointing out the positives in their situation does not help them grieve.

Having one child does not make the loss of another any easier to swallow. (It might serve as a distraction, but it doesn’t negate the loss of the other child).

A loss is a loss, so it’s better not to minimize that loss by bringing up the positives in the situation.

Instead say, “Can I pray for you right now?”

And then actually do it. Right then. Right there.

  1. Next time will be different (or God is going to fix this or something similar).

I can’t count the number of times people told me this. After our first miscarriage, they told me our next pregnancy would be different. It wasn’t. After our second miscarriage, they said it again. It wasn’t.

The truth is, we don’t know what the future holds, so it’s better not to pretend that we do.

Instead, say, “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” Or, “I’m running by Sonic. What kind of drink would you like?”  

People mean well when they say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” But most likely, people won’t take them up on their offer. Instead of offering general assistance, offer to do something specific.

  1. I know how you feel.

No, no, you don’t. Even if you have gone through something very similar, it’s not exactly the same because you are not the same person.

No two pains are exactly the same.

Instead, say, “There are no words.”

Because really, there aren’t. There are no words that will instantly fix their situation.

  1. God won’t ever give us more than we can handle.

This statement bothers me for two reasons.

First, is makes it sound like God is the one handing out the painful situations. God allows death, but I don’t think he “gives” it to us.

Secondly, I’ve never seen this idea in Scripture anywhere. In fact, I’ve seen many examples of the opposite.

I’ve seen God allowing really hard things into peoples’ lives so they will learn to trust in Him.

Instead, say NOTHING. Just be there.

What other things would you add to this list?

If you received this post by email, leave a comment here.

This post is part of Lindsey’s blog tour to celebrate her new Bible study and devotional, Unbeaten: How Biblical Heroes Rose Above Their Pain (and you can too).

To celebrate her book, she’s giving away a HUGE bundle of books! Leave a comment on this post to be entered to win. You can get more entries by commenting on other blogs in the tour as well. Get a full list of participating blogs here: www.lindseymbell.com/unbeaten-is-here-win-this-huge-bundle-of-books.

Unbeaten Cover

About Unbeaten:

Why does life have to be so hard? If you’ve ever asked this question, you’re not alone. Difficult times often leave Christians searching the Bible for answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.

Questions like:

Does God hear me when I pray?

Why isn’t He doing anything?

Does He even care?

In Unbeaten: How Biblical Heroes Rose Above Their Pain (and you can too), Lindsey Bell walks with readers through the stories of men and women in the Bible who went through difficult situations. In this 10-week Bible study and devotional, she addresses many of these questions and helps readers learn how they too can be unbeaten.

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About Lindsey Bell:

Lindsey Bell is the author of the Bible study and devotional, Unbeaten, and of the parenting devotional, Searching for Sanity. She’s a stay-at-home mother of two silly boys, a minister’s wife, an avid reader, and a lover of all things chocolate. Lindsey writes weekly at www.lindseymbell.com about faith, family, and learning to love the life she’s been given.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for having me on your site, Janet! It’s always such a blessing to be here:)

    • Janet Thompson says:

      You are welcome Lindsey. I love doing ministry with you and we share so many of the same perspectives as we minister to women. Blessings on Unbeaten helping many women!

  2. Melissa Addington says:

    I am so glad that God laid this on your heart to share. There are so many of us who are hurting for the same or different reasons. These are questions that sometimes we don’t seem to have answers to. And sometimes we give the wrong answer just trying to be nice. I know that God loves me but sometimes it is hard to understand. Thanks for sharing your heart and God’s word.

    • Janet Thompson says:

      Lindsey and I have also experienced the hurt of someone trying to “help” us and I’m sure we’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time too. It’ always good to have a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to say anything but just be there as a loving, praying friend.

    • Very true, Melissa. I think most of us (probably all of us) have the best of intentions but just don’t know what to say or how to help. Thanks for commenting. Blessings to you:)

  3. This is such good advice.

  4. Sonnetta Jones says:

    I always hated when people say that God will not give you more than you can handle. He was talking about temptation and providing a way out. I remind people now that God’s goal is to get my to be like his son and that means allowing me to go through things that will bring me closer too Him.
    Do not tell someone that their loved ones are going to heaven. In our grief we do not want that person in heaven we want them here with us

    • Janet Thompson says:

      I think sometimes Christians feel they need to say something “spiritual” instead of just comforting and loving on the person who is in pain or grieving. A good reminder.

    • You’re absolutely right, Sonnetta. That verse in 1 Corinthians 10 is referring to temptations and how God will help us find a way out of them. Context is king, isn’t it? And yes, I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t tell someone their loved one is heaven. Yes, we are thankful for that but that doesn’t mean we don’t want them here with us at the moment. Thank you for sharing. Such a great reminder.

  5. Tiffany Falley says:

    This is one of my favorite posts that you have done Lindsey.

  6. Very insightful! Thanks for offering alternative comments to say when people are hurting.

  7. Kayla Poznich says:

    This is great advice! I believe you did a similar post specifically talking about miscarriage but it really helped me be aware of all cases of what was being said. I’m sure I still say things to fill the silence, but this was a great reminder of what we can do and say to be a friend.

    • Janet Thompson says:

      Thank you for your comment Kayla. I think sometimes when we feel the needs to fill the silence we can instead just reach out and give them a hug or squeeze their hand. That speaks volumes, don’t you think?

    • Yeah, I think you’re right. I did a similar post that was more specific to miscarriage a few years back. I’m so glad these posts have been helpful to you. But really, you have been (and still are) amazing, and I’m so thankful for you! Blessings, Kayla 🙂

  8. Shannon Mayhan says:

    Great read, sometimes it is so hard to know what to say in the moment.

  9. Gary Ware says:

    I agree with and thank you for every point you noted and expanded on. During my 50 years as a Christian, ministers often explained their view that by giving these type of responses, they were keeping a person from developing negative feelings toward God and leaving their faith.

    I learned the harm of superficial comments and to listen to the person in the furnace. My first wife died, from a several year bout with cancer, and we changed churches during that time. A person wanted me to return to my Home Church and called me. He told me he knew my wife was the reason, we left and bow that she was dead, I could come back. He actually ordered me to come back based on his authority as my elder.

    That action changed my relationship toward certain types of people and God. I cut off some people and rededicated myself to Jesus. I also learned the life long damage insensitive words can do to an innocent, hurting person.

    Thank you for writing your experiences.

    • Janet Thompson says:

      Gary, my heart hurts for the pain you endured by fellow Christians. Personally, I am a 3 time breast cancer survivor and I’ve had so many insensitive things said to me over the years that I’ve written about this also to try and help people think before they speak. I’m glad you rededicated your life to Jesus…these people that hurt you are not representative of God. They are fallible humans. God is the God of love, grace, and compassion. Thank you for sharing with us and confirming this post.

    • Gary, I am so very sorry for the hurtful things that were said to you during this time. It breaks my heart that these people said these things to you, and it’s definitely not a good representation of our loving father. Thank you for sharing your story and helping people understand the power of their words. Blessings, Gary.

  10. Lindsy H says:

    This post is definitely helpful. My friend is currently going through some really difficult struggles in her marriage and I’m literally the only friend she has. I try to keep her encouraged as much as I can but I know that there’s nothing I can truly do for her but pray and be there for her when she needs someone.

    • Lindsy, it sounds like you are doing exactly what she needs. Prayer is life-changing and being there for someone is the BEST thing we can do! Blessings to you and praying for your friend.

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