What to Say to the Hurting

Well, what should you say to somebody who is hurting and who is grieving? That’s our question for this week, and it comes on the heels of my message this past Sunday. If you missed it, it’s available online where we talked about Job and his three friends. And we looked at how not to do the things that his three friends did, because as Job was sitting in grief, they were, over time, not helpful. They started off well, the three friends did, but there are certain things that they didn’t do.

There are certain things that they did that were unhelpful. So I entitled that sermon, how not to Be a Miserable Comforter, because Job referred to them as miserable comforters. So we spent time looking at what not to do, and we spent time thinking about what not to say in those moments. But what should we say when there is a time for words, when somebody is hurting? What should we say in those moments?

And I think that this is a relevant question for us, because I think most of us are afraid of that awkward moment, the feeling of, I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to say something hurtful. I don’t want to say anything that would increase their pain or bring up a bad memory. I don’t want to have to put my foot in my mouth. So it’s easier to just not say anything.

But there is a time for words. There are certain moments when words are important, when they’re necessary, and where they can bring some healing. So here’s a general rule of thumb, and it’s taken me a while to learn this as a pastor, but I tell you, figuring this out has been a big burden lifter for me. And it is this when you’re talking to somebody who is grieving or who is comforting, I’ve learned, and maybe you’ve learned this too, that the grieving person, the hurting person, is not expecting you or me to say something that is going to automatically answer all of the big questions that they have. They’re not expecting you or me to make the perfect book recommendation to make the perfect recommendation of a counselor.

They’re not expecting us to say something that will remove all of the pain that they’re feeling. Even though you and I certainly would love to be able to take away their pain, I don’t think that most grieving people are expecting that. So if we speak, the main purpose of our words should be to provide an entrance into their pain, to be able to enter into their grieving and into their mourning. The purpose of our speaking should not be to get our point across, or it shouldn’t be to move the pain along for them faster than what they’re able to bear. It should be for us to enter into their suffering in a way.

So to the extent that we speak, that should be our goal not to go, well, I got to come up with something deep and profound and a real thing here that will help bring about all the healing that this person needs. That’s too much pressure. So one of the things I would recommend is assuming you’ve done everything else, meaning you’ve prayed, James one five. You’ve prayed for wisdom about what to say to somebody who is hurting you’re, waiting for their perfect moment. You’re sensitive to the spirit.

You’re filled with God’s spirit. You’re asking God for the right words and in the right tone, assuming that you’re doing the other things we talked about on Sunday, about coming to bear burdens, about coming to mourn with those who mourn, assuming you’ve done all those things when you do speak, one recommendation I would have is to just keep it simple. You don’t need to come up with some profound statement that will be a bookmark in years to come. Something as simple as just, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that this has happened.

Something that simple can go a long way because you’re acknowledging it rather than this elephant in the room of should I say something or not to not say something only leads to more awkwardness over time. So to just enter in, to just start with, I’m really sorry, I just got the news, I can’t even imagine. And that leads to another recommendation, and that is to acknowledge and to agree with what they’re feeling. It’s not a time to go, really, you shouldn’t feel the way that you do, but rather to just say, I can’t even begin to imagine. Tell me about it.

What’s going on right now? What are days like for you? And to the extent that they’re open about sharing about their pain, agree with them about this, agree with them about the lament that they are feeling, give voice to their pain. Create that space. So keep it simple.

Acknowledge and agree with what they’re feeling. Another thing to try to express in some way is that you are there for them. They are not alone in this. One of the things that in the last few years that I found myself getting more and more comfortable with saying to people, even people that I don’t have a long term relationship with, is something along the lines of we love you. Like, on behalf of my wife Shannon and I, we love you, or the church loves you, or you’re not alone in this.

You don’t need to add more things to that, but just communicating through your words and with your body language that you just want to help them to understand that this may feel like they’re alone, but that they’re not alone. Another recommendation would be to only say things that you mean. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean, there are times when we tell a person, I will pray for you, or I am praying for you, and we shouldn’t say that unless we really are praying for them. There are times when you might feel like, I want to tell them this because it makes me feel better.

But the purpose of saying I’m praying for you is not for you to feel better. It’s not to make you look good. It’s to actually pray for them and to bring their cares and concerns before the Heavenly Father. And if you happen to say, like I found myself saying at times and then afterwards kind of thought about it, is those times when you’re like, if you need anything, and I mean anything, you just let me know. There’s a couple of things that work there.

One is you better mean that because sometimes grief takes a while. And so if a person was to call upon you and you weren’t able to deliver on anything that you said that you would be there to provide, that leads to some awkwardness and to some discomfort. So only say the things that you do intend to follow through on. And also just know that when you talk to people who are grieving, assuming they’re willing to be honest with you, what some grieving folks will say is that whenever somebody says, can I do anything for you? That can feel a bit overwhelming because now they have to figure out a way for you to serve them rather than you taking the initiative or I taking the initiative to serve them and to come up with creative ways to bless them.

So those are some things to keep in mind. And I hope that as you’re ministering, that the Lord does provide an avenue to remind this grieving person about the promises of scripture. You don’t want to always lead with this because you don’t want to come across as a sermon or being preachy to them in their moment of pain. But God’s word does bring healing. God’s word does bring reminders of God’s faithfulness.

And that may be something that they need to hear. So you’re praying for wisdom. God may use that scripture, that reminder of a promise of God’s character, god’s faithfulness, his mercies that are new every morning. That could be just the thing that God uses in this person’s life for that day. I believe God gives us each day what we need for each day, and he will provide for this person who is grieving what they need.

His promises are always true. So the bottom line is this, that actions always speak louder than words. So it’s not always, what do I have to say, but really, what can I do? But when there is something to be said, when words are necessary and there’s the opportunity there, let’s follow the example of Jesus. You’d find every time that Jesus entered into conversation, his words were from the Heavenly Father, and they were always just the right words at the right time.

That’s my hope for us, is we seek to be a body of Christ to people who are grieving all around us.