Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
I remember when I went through my divorce about seven years ago and how much I just wanted the news to be “out there” so I didn’t have to worry about who knew and who didn’t and have a million different conversations about it. And so I decided I would just announce it in church and get it over with.
As an introvert, this was incredibly difficult, and what made it even harder was that the pastor forgot I wanted to share it. I literally had to interrupt him before he ended the service so I could get up and share. But I did it.
And my church responded amazingly. They gathered around me and my daughter and they prayed over us. It was beautiful.
And then after that, as I encountered people one-on-one in smaller settings, their comments started to come in.
You know the comments. The ones that were meant to be helpful, but really weren’t. The cliches. The pat answers.
What do you say in response to those?
Whether you experienced the loss of a loved one, a diagnosis, a sudden job loss, or a divorce, like me, there are always going to be moments where people say things that aren’t helpful, and that might even hurt.
And in an online community I was part of, someone brought up some examples of how she was lovingly, yet firmly, rebuked when she made an off-handed comment about someone’s situation that was meant to be positive, but that wasn’t perceived that way.
That’s where this series came from. How do we respond in these different situations?
We are wrapping up our series about how to respond in different situations when it comes to encouragement and care. Some have been from the perspective of the helper, such as how to respond when someone asks about your hurting friend and how to respond when a friend won’t let you help.
Others have been from the perspective of the one needing support and encouragement, like how to decline an offer of help gracefully, and today’s episode, how to respond to hurtful comments when you are grieving.
Do we just accept it and move on? Do we set them straight? Do we tell them how hurtful their comment was?
And my answer is… it depends.
Let’s dive into this situation and explore what our options are and how you might choose to respond. Because it really will be a personal choice based on the situation, where you are at in the healing journey, and how God is inviting you to use that situation for His purposes.
My first tip for you would be to simply expect that it’s going to happen. I don’t know of any situation where everyone responded absolutely perfectly, with no naïve comments, insensitive questions, or downright hurtful words.
If I can generalize, I would say that we are not good at dealing with suffering and hurt in our part of the world. We try to avoid it. We often try to ignore it when we see it. We don’t know what to do with it.
And so when we come face to face with it, we do stupid things. We say stupid things. We trip over our words. It doesn’t make it okay, but just realize that the majority of people are not intentionally trying to kick you when you’re down. They literally don’t know what to say or do. (That’s why I started this podcast, to help us figure it out!)
If you can expect that it’s going to happen, you’ll be somewhat prepared for it when it does. And while it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to hear, it does make it easier not to hold on to it, but to let it go and move on.
So, how might we respond when it happens?
Option number one: Nod and move on.
I imagine this would be the option for most funeral services today, as people pass through the line and murmur their condolences.
“At least they aren’t suffering anymore.”
“At least they didn’t suffer.”
“At least they’re in heaven.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“I know someone else who…”
What can we possibly say in a situation like this? In this instance, we hold onto the belief that our friend means well and wants to give us some hope and encouragement, and we let go of the actual comment they made.
It’s almost like a, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” kind of scenario. They don’t know, and so we don’t hold it against them.
Don’t take it personally. Don’t hold onto the words. Just let them pass right by you.
Option number two: lovingly correct.
In some cases, we need to help others see that what they are saying isn’t really helpful. And so we need to lovingly let them know that. We do this not just for ourselves, but to help them be aware of it for future occasions when others in our family or church might be grieving.
But, my friends, we have to make sure our hearts are in the right place for this. We’re not going to correct them out of bitterness or anger. We’re not going to speak to them with frustration or built-up emotions. We’re going to be in control of our words and our tone. We’re going to look at them with love and compassion.
Is it okay for them to see we hurt? Yes. But it’s the heart behind it all that matters.
So, if we are going to correct someone, I suggest we do so in private, away from the eyes and ears of others. Because who likes to be corrected in front of a crowd? Not me.
I also suggest that you already have a relationship with this person. You’ve developed trust and friendship, and so you have the grounds to lovingly speak into their lives.
You could say something like, “Look, I know you probably don’t know what to say. This is a hard situation for all of us. But telling me that it’s all going to be fine really isn’t helpful right now. I’m sure someday it might be. But right now it hurts, and I just need to hear that you’re here for me.”
In the case of divorce, telling someone that they are better off doesn’t make it any better or easier, especially if you don’t know the cause of the divorce or what life now looks like as a single parent. If someone tells you that, perhaps you could respond with something like, “I know it might seem like this was a good thing, but it’s actually really hard and I could use your prayers and support.”
And friends, I am not an advocate for divorce, but I do recognize that there are a lot of unhealthy and abusive relationships, and I know that we live in a fallen world. And sometimes divorce happens. And we want to care for those who are going through it, not beat them up over something that might be out of their control. Can we do that?
There are so many other scenarios. Job loss. Miscarriage. Realizing your child has special needs or a behavioral disorder. Lost friendship. Car accident. Diagnosis.
So essentially, when someone makes a comment that isn’t helpful, we’re going to do three things in our response. First, we’re going to acknowledge that they didn’t mean any harm (because most people don’t). We do that with a statement like “I know you probably don’t know what to say” or “I know you think that this is a good thing” or “I know that you are trying to encourage me in my faith.”
Second, we’re going to simply be honest with them. “But that’s not helpful.” “But this is really hard.” “But you don’t know all the details.”
And third, we are going to finish up by saying what we need from them, so that we’re offering them a different wording or option. “I could really use your prayers right now.” “I just need to know that you’re here for me.” “I need some time on my own right now.”
Now, friends, I know you’re listening from two different perspectives here. You’re listening from the one who is grieving and hearing the hurtful comments, but in the back of your head, you’re also thinking, “I don’t want to be the one to say something stupid.” And so you are going to try to say nothing at all.
And that’s where I want to challenge you. Because silence is even worse. As Nancy Guthrie writes in her book What Grieving People Wish You Knew, “It matters less what you say than that you say something.”
She shares the example from her husband when he went back to work after their daughter Hope died. She writes, “A man came into his office talking a mile a minute but didn’t acknowledge our loss at all. David knew he knew. Maybe he thought David wouldn’t want to talk about it. Maybe he didn’t know how to bring it up. Maybe he thought the office was not the place for it. Most likely he just felt awkward and unsure of what to say, and so he just said nothing. Whatever it was, it hurt.”
So fumble your way through. Say, “I’m so sorry.” Say, “I’m here for you.” Just say something. Because if you ignore it, if their hurt is met with silence, they will feel so incredibly alone. And that is not okay. Even if you have no words, you need to somehow show up. Sit with them. Give them a hug.
We’ll have to dive more into that side of the conversation another time, but if you haven’t listened to episode 7 yet, I encourage you to do so. In that episode, Laura Howe shares five things to say when you don’t know what to say, and it’s a helpful starting place as we try to care for our loved ones who are hurting.
Okay, let’s review. How do we respond to hurtful comments when we’re grieving? First of all, we start by expecting them. We as a culture are not very good at handling suffering and so we don’t know what to say when we see someone we love who is hurting.
Second, you can simply nod and move on, knowing that the majority of people aren’t saying something to upset you or hurt you. They simply don’t know what to say.
And third, if you feel the need to lovingly correct, do so out of a healthy place where you can control your words and your tone. Let them know you realize they aren’t saying something to intentionally hurt you, be honest about how their words affected you, and then offer a way they can support you instead.
And this wraps up our series about how to respond in different situations. Next week, my friend Kristen Joy joins me as we talk about finding joy in the hard and heavy. I can’t wait to share it with you.
And then the week after that, starting July 19, we are going to have a 5-day Courageous Care challenge, because I want to help you break through the fear and uncertainty so that you are actually reaching out to care for others. So make sure you are following the podcast and invite a friend to join you. It’s a week you won’t want to miss.
Until next time…
COURAGEOUS CARE CHALLENGE
Break Through Your Fear of Reaching Out
July 19-23, 2021
Don’t miss the Courageous Care Challenge. This is a 5-day podcast challenge to help you replace fear and uncertainty with courage and compassion. We are going to be looking at the top five obstacles and objections to taking action when someone you love is hurting so that you don’t live with regret because you didn’t reach out. It starts July 19th right here on the podcast. Invite a friend to join you!
- Book: What Grieving People Wish You Know About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts), by Nancy Guthrie
- Episode: 5 Things to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say with Laura Howe