When I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), I noticed that people didn’t know what to say and even close friends struggled to communicate with me.

I know how they feel, as I have been there myself, wanting to offer words of comfort to others but not knowing what to say.

So here are a few things my experience has taught me that may help you communicate with those who are struggling. It may be a terminal illness like me, or it may be a dream not yet realised, a broken relationship, or a dead-end.

A classic comfort we offer others is to compare their situation to those who are seemingly worse-off. For example, some have said to me, “well you could have been hit by a car and already be dead”. I get the premise, but in reality, this has offered no comfort.

I have heard of others who have lost a child or spouse and were told they should at least be thankful for the short time they had together. This is something only they have the right to say. When you feel like your world has just ended, there are better things that could be said.

Comparing to a “worse” event brings little comfort.

Another classic: “there must be a reason for this because everything happens for a reason”.

The problem with this is often it is impossible to figure out a reason why someone is experiencing a tragedy that has derailed their hopes and dreams and impacted their family and finances.

Whatever you do, don’t suggest that the reason is that it could be God testing them. This is hard for me to fathom. The God I love and know would not and does not reward those He loves with life’s harshest conditions, like poverty or a terminal illness.

Yes, maybe in the midst of the challenge we can give what is happening to us some meaning but that’s a very personal thing that no one else can assume on the sufferer.

My hope is that anyone who is suffering would ultimately be able to give what they are going through a sense of cause and purpose, as I have experienced, even while going through the valley.

In the same vein, to those searching for something to ground tragedy in, I have heard it said or inferred, “maybe its because of something you have done.”

This old chestnut suggests that bad things happen to those who have done something to deserve it.

I’m sure we can all recall areas of our life that are far from perfect so when tragedy does come, it’s not hard to blame yourself or think that maybe somehow you deserve it.  I’ve been there, and I recommend getting out quick because it’s a dead-end.

Christ came to bring grace, He stood in the gap, and where we deserved death for our sin, He offers life.

Sure, there are consequences for all our actions: we’ve all heard it said, the smoker increases their risk of getting cancer, and the overeater increases their chances of getting heart disease.  However, we should never think that an undeserved or tragic circumstance in life is some sort of divine punishment.

The good news of the Gospel is that God is a God of grace not of karma.

They are a few things I won’t be saying, now, these are some great things I have experienced:

  • I’m washing my car this weekend and I’m coming to wash yours as well!” – Be specific when offering to help.
  • Boy you look so tired today, are you ok?” – Be real, don’t lie.
  • I’m coming over to mow your lawn, no need to come out, just wanted you not to worry when you hear the mower?” – Show kindness, expect nothing in return.
  • Hey, I know this is serious and you could die but I’m in this battle with you.” – Acknowledge how bad it is but give your support.
  • I’m so sorry” – Acknowledging loss can be as simple as that.
  • “I love you”, “Thank you”, “I appreciate you”, “I am praying for you” – Waste no time saying the things that matter.

So when we don’t know what to say, let’s err on the side of just being there, and putting ourselves in the shoes of the sufferer before we speak. This is love.