Nine Things Christians Can Edit Out of Our “Helping Speech”
A few months ago I was really struggling with anxiety and migraines. I felt overwhelmed and and a general sense that life was too much to handle. I called on friends (as you do) to help me pick up the pieces. One friend, in particular, really stepped up to the plate. I remember her saying very little. She listened and took me out to eat. She gave me freedom to talk. I can think of a few helpful things she said, but mostly it was the things she didn’t say that helped me get through it all. Part of what was going on was that I waited too long to reach out for help. I said “Thank you for not telling me that this is all my fault and that I should have reached out sooner.” Her response inspired the title of this post. She said “Well, I’m having some of those thoughts, but I’m editing them out and not saying them.” Sometimes there are things that come to mind that we simply shouldn’t say. We need a brain editor.
Since that time I’ve had a blog post rolling around in my brain about things we might want to “edit out.” I’m not an expert brain editor (I often say the wrong thing!) but there are a lot of times people come to me and tell me the things that others have said (while trying to be helpful) that aren’t helpful. This list is a record of some of those. Would love to hear your thoughts about these and what things you would add to this list.
1. Edit out: God never gives you more than you can handle.
Say Instead: That sounds really difficult.
Rationale: First of all, “God never gives you more than you can handle” is not in the Bible. The verse people are referring to is 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is a verse about temptation. When we say to a person who is suffering ‘God never gives you more than you can handle” what we mean to say is “You are strong. You will get through this.” Instead, though, it rings hollow to the ears of those who are suffering. Sometimes it feels like we can not and will not survive. Sometimes we need someone to acknowledge our pain and say “That sounds hard.”
2. Edit out: Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.
Say instead: I’d like to arrange a cleaning service to clean your house for you. What day is good? or I’m planning to bring my chicken curry over for supper. Should I leave it on the porch for you today, or ring the bell?
Rationale: In general, I think we should err on the side of thinking of something that might be helpful and offering to do it rather than putting the burden on the suffering person to decide what might be helpful. Nine times out of ten if you say to a suffering person “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” the person will not reach out. Often a more concrete offer to do something will be well received, especially if there’s a way for the person to opt out. If you say “I’m bringing dinner this week, what day is good?” the receiver can always say “Please, I’d rather not.” Better yet, just drop the meal at the door (in disposable containers) and run. The recipient can always freeze or throw it away if it’s not needed. Suffering people have enough to manage without managing caregivers as well.
Bonus: 4 things do offer for someone who is suffering/grieving:
- Babysit their children
- Take them a meal
- Clean their house (or have a service do it)
- Have flowers delivered
3. Edit out: He/she is in a better place.
Say instead: I’m so sorry for your loss.
Rationale: Someone recently told me that every time someone says “He’s in a better place” she thinks “Well, I’m not.” Reason enough not to say this.
4. Edit out: Let go and let God
Say instead: I’m thinking of you
Rationale: I’m not even sure what “let go and let God” really means. It seems empty and feels empty to the ears who hear it.
5. Edit out: He/she isn’t “the one.” or “It wasn’t meant to be”
Say Instead: I’m sorry you’re going through this very painful breakup.
Rationale: I learned this the hard way… by saying it to a friend who was experiencing a painful breakup. She rightly called me out on it. “I’d rather decide if someone is or is not ‘the one,’ it’s not your job.” Very true.
6. Edit out: I know exactly how you’re feeling.
Say instead: How are you feeling today? (Thanks Teri)
Rationale: It’s human nature to want to compare our experiences to others, but the truth is, even if we’ve gone through the same thing (loss of someone we love, illness, etc.) our experiences and feelings are different, because we are different.
7. Edit out: God has a reason for this. / Everything happens for a reason.
Say instead: This is really hard to understand.
Rationale: When Christians say “God has a reason” we are often thinking of the Romans 8:28 that says “We know all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to his purpose.” It’s a lovely verse. Yet, when tragedy strikes, it’s often very, very hard to see how it could lead to anything good. Sometimes we are never able to make sense of a tragedy, and that’s ok. When we are going through hard times, it’s comforting to know that others find them difficult to understand as well.
8. Edit out: God must have needed another angel in heaven
Say instead: I’m so sorry for your loss.
Rationale: Implying that God snatched an unborn child (or baby, or child, or young adult) from this earth and put that soul in heaven to make him or her an angel rather than allow that person live to old age makes God sound mean. There’s nothing in scripture that says anything even close to this, and I’ve never once heard someone say that it was helpful for them to hear it.
9. Edit out: When God closes a door, God opens a window.
Say instead: I’m here for you (if you are, of course!)
Rationale: Sometimes when roadblocks come our way other opportunities open up. Sometimes they don’t though. What if it’s hard to see the window? Better to let the person decide for him or herself if there’s a “window opportunity.”