Most of us have a bad memory of something that someone once said to us when we were going through a hard time. Few people intend to kick another person when he or she is down, but we sometimes do it with the best of intentions. What are things to say and not say to people who are going through a crisis? People desperately need one another when they are hurting. Crisis counselors have learned over time how to effectively comfort those in pain. Here are some guidelines;
1. Your words are meant to comfort, not to talk the person out of hurting. There is no magic word that will make the situation or pain go away. Mary Leonard, a Chaplain in crisis ministry, starts all of her ministry with 3 words; “Holy Spirit, come!” She says this prayer as she approaches the person. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
There is no magic word that will make the situation or pain go away.
“I know how you feel.” You are not them, so you do not, even if you have gone through something similar. Our histories, personalities and coping skills are different.
“It is good that he passed quickly.” Don’t put “good” and “death” in the same sentence to a grieving person. Unexpected loss can be more difficult because of the lack of preparation and shock.
“It was his time to go.” How do you know that? It can seem superior to assume you know this.
“Let’s talk about something else.” Grief needs to be walked through, not avoided. Changing the subject can seem shallow. There is a time to grieve. (See Ecclesiastes 3:4)
“It’s good that you are alive.” Many survivors are bereft and do not feel that way.
“God’s got this.” Yes, He does, but it may take time to feel that way. God may have this, but it still hurts.
It is also helpful to not put people on the spot by asking, “So, how are you?” Open-ended questions like ”How are you holding up?” are better because they don’t require a person to simplify their answer to “good” or “not good.” This question subtly acknowledges that they are needing to “hold things up,” which recognizes that healing is a process and challenges are possibly still there for them.
It is acceptable to say, “I don’t know what to say. I have never been through what you are going through. But I care and want you to know that your feelings are important to me.” Your honestly affirms that the situation is beyond words, which is how it may feel to them.
3. It’s not about you. Sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us to share our stories. Sometimes people want desperately to talk to someone who has been through what they are going through. They want to know they can make it through the pain. When someone shares their story, it may show that is can be done. But other stories seem to attempt to “top” what the person has been through so that it will make the other person’s situation comparably less horrible. I Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is patient, love is kind.” Love will sit back and wait and focus on the other person’s pain and needs.
It's not wrong to share that you, too, are experiencing sadness. The focus, however, should be on your friend.
Don’t try to lessen or minimize someone else’s pain.
4. Validate that the person has been through something difficult. Don’t try to lessen or minimize someone else’s pain. Confirm that they are going through an overwhelming situation and that their pain and emotions are understandable and expectable. Some experts say that the person is experiencing “common (or normal) reactions.” People need to be reassured that their responses are normal for what they have experienced.
5. Let them talk, or be silent. Be sure to leave opportunities for silence so that the person has the freedom to talk. Talking helps people process what they have gone through, what they will do next, how the future will be different, and what they are feeling. This is not a time to judge or correct.
Encourage your friend to express his or her needs and to understand that there is a time to accept help. Explain that people want to, and are blessed, to be able to help. Respect the need for time alone, but encourage the person to be with others that are grieving, too. Sadness and good memories shared can be healing.
It is not always helpful to try to “fix” the situation by quoting a series of Bible verses, but a well-timed word from Scripture can minister to a person's heart. There will probably be a time very soon when Scripture will offer them tremendous comfort. It's nice to leave a Bible if it is wanted so that the person can open it as the Lord leads them to do so. It's important to respect how the person desires to express their confusion, shock and/or grief.
Don’t set earthly expectations on them because we process emotions and grieve differently.
7. Offer to pray with them and for them. Again, be sensitive and the Holy Spirit will give you the right words to pray at the right moment. Let the person know that you will continue to pray for their strength, for God’s presence and comfort, and for wisdom for them as they face the days ahead. Short prayers can be very powerful and comforting.
When people are weeping or mourning, they may not believe they will ever laugh or dance again.
When you come alongside someone who has experienced trauma or tragedy, you help carry their burden and share their tears and loss. If you stay by their side and support them with love and prayer, you will be there to share their laughter and dancing when the time does come. That will be a glorious day.