A glimpse of the Book of Job reminds me of the comfort and encouragements given by his three closest friends. They were probably honest and sincere. But why was Job not comforted by their words? There may be several reasons why their opinions were not acceptable. And there’s no doubt that God did rebuke them for that. However, from a human point of view, the three friends were probably not arrogant but were somehow ignorant of the fact that Job was going through a terrible suffering and needed comfort rather than false opinionated accusations and ignorant encouragements.
Job isn’t the only one who has experienced suffering. His story is an example of what happens in life. Every human being alive had experienced some form of suffering. In almost every suffering, there are friends that come to show their concern and support. Often the words they use to express their sympathy or to simply encourage the grieving person can cause more hurt and anger in the broken person instead of comfort.
We’ve all made unintentional mistakes in our loving attempts to comfort grieving people. I didn’t really think much about how grieving people feel about the statements I make to encourage them in times of sadness until I was hurt and grieving. I began to analyse the common phrases people use to comfort me and realized there are many ignorant phrases we should not be using when attempting to comfort others in their times of sorrow.
Like many other people, I also had my share of crises in life. My early life was shattered by a volcanic eruption. I had over the years had several car accidents. One of them was four years ago that nearly took the life of a child and put me in prison. I went to court. Two years ago, I lost my baby. These are some of the moments I was broken and needed comforting words. I am grateful that God provided many friends that comforted me during that period of grief. There were friends that cried and prayed with me, held my hands and assisted me in different things. There were friends who ministered to me with their presence without talking a lot. Interestingly, among all those friends, I discovered that there were those who added more salt on my wound by their ignorant encouragements. While I do not hold them accountable for the ignorant comforting and encouraging phrases used, I cannot forget the lessons I learnt from these ignorant phrases. Here are few of them.
1. Don’t worry, It’s OK
This is a complete ignorant phrase one could use to comfort a grieving person. It shows that the friend does not see and feel the reality of what is happening to the person he/she is trying to comfort. How can we expect the grieving person not to worry when he/she is hurting? It may be OK with the encourager but it is not OK with the grieving person. It is simply not the right time to say, “it is OK.”
2. Cheer Up
I have heard many Christians tell me, “Cheer up brother, Christians should not worry. We should rejoice at all times.” When I hear this I doubt whether the person understands me or not. Whether you are a Christian or not, people have emotions. And emotions do fluctuate and moods change. There are seasons in life that cause circumstances that affect people’s moods and emotions. Christians should learn to use the right scriptural quotations and make appropriate theological statements at the right time in a better way. Your theological statements towards a grieving person may be true, but if said at the wrong time, you could inform but not able to comfort. We also should learn to accept the realities of life and not live in an imaginary or fantasy Christian world.
3. If only you had done this/ or You should do this…
In my traditional PNG culture, there is a common phrase used when dealing with loss, “Don’t build a bridge after someone has been carried away by the flood.” When people are hurt, let’s assume that they probably know something about the cause of their problem. It is not the right time to tell them what they should have done. It is time to comfort the hurting person. We may think we know what they should have done or should do now but in fact we do not know everything about their problem. It is better to save your opinion and advice for a later time when the grieving person is emotionally and mentally prepared to accept them. Your advice may be good but can only be appreciated when the hurting person is ready to listen. The grieving person will appreciate if you can give your ears and hold back your tongue.
4. Thank God, you are lucky
I remember many times ignorantly singing the hymn penned by Horatio Spafford, “It is well with my soul.” By singing this hymn we attempt to comfort and encourage the grieving person to compare his/her situation with Spafford’s loss. Some people would want to compare the situation of the hurting person to another person. It can sound good trying to compare and reflect on the level of one’s suffering with another. Yet it does not help the hurting person at the moment of suffering. It is not well with the person’s soul at the moment. Each person is unique and experiences different circumstances in life in unique ways. Whether big or small the situation is, people need comfort and not comparison in suffering.
5. Don’t even talk about it
Some hurting people are advised as, “Don’t even think or talk about it. It will cause you more pain.” Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. When people are grieving, it is better to allow them time to talk. They need someone to share their pain with. The best thing you could do for a hurting person is to listen to him or her. By listening you can understand something about the person you are trying to comfort.
6. I know exactly how you feel
Really? Do you know how the other person is feeling? We are often tempted to quickly boast of our experiences and opinions about situations that other people are facing. Just because you have had a similar experience does not mean you understand that person or how they are feeling. Everyone’s different. Your experience and the feelings of a similar situation may be relatively similar but your response may not be exactly the same as the other person. And do not expect him/her to respond the way you did because every person has a different temperament. Besides, it is better to focus your attention on the hurting person. If the hurting person wants you to share your experience, you may do so. Otherwise keep it to yourself. Sharing it without his/her interest or request will make him/her feel that you are undermining their moment of grief. Grieving people don’t care how much you know or how much you’ve experienced life until they know how much you care.
I hope this might be helpful to someone who is trying to comfort a grieving family or friend at this moment.
Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think.