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.
January 23, 2015 at 7:38 am
Thanks so much Phil….well said and greatly appreciated.
January 30, 2015 at 8:47 am
And I appreciate your comments and taking time out to read blog, thank you!
January 23, 2015 at 7:57 am
So well said – particularly the line about God testing – the God I know isn’t like that either!
January 30, 2015 at 8:48 am
Yes Tania so much is about what we believe about who God is and how he is. Thanks for reading.
January 23, 2015 at 9:16 am
I haven’t said anything stupid in about 17 years, but only because I haven’t been able to speak in all that time.
Seriously, one of my close friend’s two year old son drowned in their pool and some of the things that were said to this mourning couple by well-intentioned Christians only added to their confusion.
I have a simple rule: if you don’t know what to say, just hug them and tell them you’re praying…
By the way, this couple’s oldest son is a drummer at Hillsong in Australia. Small world.
January 30, 2015 at 8:51 am
Hey Bill for someone who I have only known for a short time I hear you loud and clear. From so far away with no voice you are one of my loudest voices. Thank you. That is so good about the drummer, I hope i get to meet him some time.
January 30, 2015 at 8:51 am
Not good about what people said.
January 23, 2015 at 9:21 am
Phil, the way that you have responded to having your illness and going through your valley is simply amazing! You are reaching out to & helping so many people which surely is one of life’s highest purposes. What was meant for harm, God has used for good.
January 30, 2015 at 8:52 am
Thanks Wes. Believing the enemy will cry over what he has done.
January 23, 2015 at 9:31 am
Phil! You are an incredible man – your wisdom is astounding and appreciated by all around you. We love you!
January 30, 2015 at 8:53 am
Thanks Clare. Your so encouraging.
January 23, 2015 at 9:55 am
Wow! What a powerful message. I am so glad that you wrote this. It IS hard to know what to say to people that have encountered loss, or ask where God was when they were in trouble. I’m definitely passing this message on. Thanks heaps, Phil!
January 30, 2015 at 8:54 am
Thanks Alex. Long time no see, hope your both doing well.
January 23, 2015 at 11:57 am
All right but at least there are people and friends around you who try to help and to speak into your situation. Even they say it the wrong way… still they care about you and that shows me that they love you.
We all can learn how to do better and what you said is good and can help to understand and to help more effective.
Thanks Phil for sharing!
January 30, 2015 at 8:55 am
Hi Stephen. Great to be able to continue this conversation via Facebook. God will always use us is we are available but He will never abuse us. Praying for strength in the midst of your pain brother.
January 23, 2015 at 9:10 pm
Well said Phil, you are an amazing man of God. Praying for you and your family.
January 30, 2015 at 8:56 am
Thanks Angelo. I know it can be hard to comment on these pages they don’t make it easy, but thanks for your effort in sending this. Have a great day.
January 27, 2015 at 9:14 am
Thanks Phil! Great wisdom for us all and something I am seriously taking to heart. Love ya mate!
January 30, 2015 at 8:57 am
Thanks Mick. Love ya too rev head.
January 28, 2015 at 11:25 am
Thanks for a great message Phil, you are a blessing to everyone. Having lost a teenage daughter a number of years ago know it is not always easy to know what to say. The best thing is just a simple ….So sorry, I love you, or most important … Am praying for you!
We all love you heaps Phil, you bless us all the time!
January 30, 2015 at 8:59 am
Carole, today I pray for you. Thank you!
January 28, 2015 at 3:18 pm
So great you wrote this bluntly and honestly Phil. I have been through many situations as well where people simply did not know what to say and where they then said the stupidest things – literally unbelievable if you repeated it back to them (which of course I didn’t). Honesty and even just saying ‘Sorry I really don’t know what to say right now. I wish I did’ – means such a lot. Sadly I found Christians say some of the worst most judgemental things when things do not go as you would have liked them to in your life. Amazingly, in my personal experience, the rest of the world does not tend to judge and just accepts what happens as part of life. I hope you get to meet many many people outside the church at the moment Phil as I honestly believe you would be touched by them and they would certainly connect with you as you are so transparent, non-judgemental and real – something that many of us outside the church do not often experience from those ‘inside’ the church. To be blunt Phil – it totally sucks that you have this illness and I am filled with sadness that that could happen to someone as amazing as you. I would love for nothing more than an amazing cure for you right now. But in the middle of what you are going through, I absolutely take my hat off to you for being such an inspiration and for laying down such an incredible legacy through this blog among other things. I hope that you print a book from these blogs. Simply call the book: Fridays with Phil. Hugs to you and Lenore. 🙂
January 30, 2015 at 9:07 am
Thanks for there hugs Jayne and your kind words once again, really appreciate it. It is so sad that Christians have miss represented Christ’s heart in words they have spoken. It hurts. In my previous role as a pastor I have sat with christians and honestly and openly apologised for what other pastors have said to them. I did this because I represent those other pastors by the position/title I carried. So as a Christian can i say to you “sorry for what has been said in a judgemental and hurtful way to you in the past, at the same time you were hurt by those words Jesus was also hurting as they didn’t reflect His heart toward you in your pain; He loves you”.