When Jonathan McComb lost his wife, Laura, and their two children in the Texas Hill Country flood, friends wondered what they should say. What would you say? If a man’s heart and mind are shattered and in shock, sometimes what he needs more than words, is a silent hug, a gentle smile, and a I-love-you-pat on the back. Not words. Silence has healing power. But when it comes to that time when you feel you want to speak, what are some things you should say?
As a young and inexperienced pastor, I had very little first-hand acquaintance with human suffering, grief, or pain. My experience was limited to classroom experience with seminary professors and from my personal reading.
Then it happened. I got that first call. A teenager in our church was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Her single mother was hysterical. The funeral director called me. “Pastor, get over here as fast as you can. Melissa’s mom is out of her mind with grief. She needs her pastor.”
As I drove to her house, I remember thinking, “What in the world can I say to ease this grieving mother’s pain?” She needs a wise pastor, and yet I felt that whatever I had been taught had somehow evaporated from my brain. I was arriving totally unprepared, empty-minded, and frightened at my own inadequacies. And worse, I knew this mother was expecting me to bring words of comfort and help her make some sense of this tragedy.
As a young, nervous pastor, at first I was uncomfortable with silence. I cringe when I remember some of the trite clichés I used. We live in a world filled with sounds, often bordering on noise. A recent six-year study of 580 undergraduate students suggests that our ever-present exposure to background music and other sounds has created a generation of people who fear silence. I know it scared me. And I think it bothers most of us.
In my early days as a pastor, when I entered a room where someone was in pain and no one was speaking, I felt the need to say something, anything. After all, I was the pastor, the professional spokesperson for God. Too often my efforts at trying to sound wise backfired.
Over time, and after a good number of blunders, I learned some things to say and some things not to say. To prevent you from doing the same kind of damage I did, let me offer you several pointers:
Eight Things You Should NEVER Say To Someone Who Hurts
- Don’t be Fatalistic: “This is God’s will. Accept it. He knows best.
- Don’t be Unsympathetic: “It could be a lot worse. Just be thankful.
- Don’t be Agnostic: “It’s just bad luck. God has nothing to do with this. God helps those who help themselves.”
- Don’t be Judgmental: “Maybe this is God’s way of getting your attention. Maybe you need to pray for forgiveness.”
- Don’t be Super-spiritual: “God is more interested in your soul. This will help you grow spiritually and get you closer to God.”
- Don’t be Critical: “God never causes suffering. He wants us to be healthy and happy. It’s the work of the Devil. This will make you better.”
- Don’t be Ego-Centric: “I know just how you feel. Let me tell you about my loss. You think you are suffering; my family has really experienced pain. Let me tell you all about it.”
- Don’t be Condescending: “Don’t cry. Take it like Jesus did. Be a good Christian. Don’t be upset. Just look around and you can see people who have things a lot worse.”
Can you imagine being Jonathan hearing these “words of comfort”? Can you imagine yourself saying those kinds of things to Jonathan in his overwhelming grief?
Do you agree with this list?
Is there another “Don’t-Ever” that you would add to this list of things we should NEVER say?
Join me next time and we’ll go over the eight things you SHOULD say to someone who hurts.