A popular alternative rock band in the 80’s & 90’s was R.E.M. and in 1993 they released the song, “Everybody Hurts,” which at the time really spoke to me. I was 13 and dealing with more than most girls my age should have even known about. I couldn’t relate to my peers because the rites of passage many of them experienced seemed trivial in comparison with the tough realities in my life. I was hurting and I felt alone. Truth states I was not alone; there is a world full of people who are also hurting. I felt the song by R.E.M. not only spoke to that reality but encouraged people to hang on and to do it together.
With that thought in mind, I’ve noticed something over the past year as I’ve watched people around me who have had their lives rocked. What has most shocked me has been the poor responses of others to their friends’ hardships. I will admit that I don’t always know how to come alongside someone, and sometimes I will say the wrong thing, but what I am encountering more and more is cruel words and “spiritual” responses that just aren’t biblically accurate!
When we hurt, we need the people around us to love on us and to be there.
Here are 5 things I’ve heard people say that are just NOT HELPFUL to someone struggling with hardship.
1. “You must have done something wrong for God to allow this to happen to you.”
Can you hear the buzzer telling you, you just got it wrong – eHHHHHHHHH. If you think this is accurate, please read the Book of Job. Traditional Jewish thought was (and still is in some groups) that suffering was a result of sin. That is why Holocaust Survivors are often treated badly. Job was written to counter this. Life happens and difficulties aren’t necessarily in direct correlation with your actions, choices etc. Job did nothing wrong and his life exploded in his face. God even chastised his “friends” who continued to badger him about his need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Job is also a humbling book because when God responds, He definitely shows us that we cannot understand the depths of who He is! The truth is we just can’t tell anyone why they are experiencing disease, pain or loss.
2. “Your loved one is in a better place”
Sure, this may be true, but ask yourself does it need to be said? Probably not! It’s not unspiritual to be sad when someone is gone. We can know that they are pain free with Jesus and still miss them. We loved them and our life now has this hole. People who lose a parent, child, spouse or other close relative/friend have to begin to live without that person. My grandpa was killed more than 2 years ago, but I still can’t bring myself to delete his number from my contacts. It is what it is. People need a hug, and practical help: food, laundry, house cleaning, lawn maintenance etc. It’s hard to do your everyday life tasks with the hole you feel. It’s good to be empathetic, but it’s also good to ask, “What do you need right now?” If they don’t know, assure them you will be there when they figure it out.
3. “You need to do…”
We all might think of remedies and solutions to the problems we see in people’s lives, and social media has tricked us into thinking we have the right to offer our 2 cents. But if someone isn’t asking, don’t tell them your 10 step way to make it all better. Most of us have internet access. We know how to google a disease or look up the harmful affects of foods, environment etc. The information itself is good, but can be overwhelming or feel condescending.
4. “God does not give us more than we can bear.”
If you want to say this to someone, just go ahead and punch them in the face. First of all, this scripture is often taken out of context because I Corinthians 10:13 tells us there is a time for everything and when someone is suffering, they need words that bring life and help encourage them to fight on, not words that embitter them toward God and break down their strength. It’s hard to know what to say to people especially when we have no experience walking in their shoes so pray, and if you have no idea what to say, just say that and reassure them that you are there to walk the journey with them.
5. “If you had more faith…”
I do believe our words can make or break our journey and we can speak truth into our lives, but bad things happen even with faith. Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own. There are moments when faith can change our reality, but to assume or communicate that the travesty they face is due to a lack of faith puts unnecessary blame in their lives and does nothing to support our friend or family member. Sometimes the answer we get from God is “No” or “Maybe.” God has purposes beyond our scope. We have no idea what he sees. and maybe we will see it play out before us and maybe we won’t, but if we trust a good, loving God than we can know no matter what, He is at work.
I’ve shared before that when I was a pre-teen and early teen, my mom was married to a man with a lot of heartache and pain in his heart and the experiences he walked through in his life led him to alcoholism and abuse. In the years he was married to my mom, our lives were torn apart and he almost killed my mom. Fast-forward to several years ago when he was dying. I recognized that the worst years of my life were the best of his. Because of his time with us, he came to know God. I realized that he knew Jesus and would be in heaven . In retrospect, I drew the conclusion that it was worth it. I wanted him in heaven and was willing to accept what I’d lived through if it meant his soul being saved. It was an epiphany like none other I have ever experienced. Sure I wasn’t going through it at the moment that I accepted the beauty of the end result, but that’s the point. During those early years suffering because of someone else’s choices, I wondered if God really loved me, but when God saw me he didn’t just see the hurting 7th grader, he also simultaneously saw the woman in adulthood accepting the weight of those years and in his grace, he allowed those experiences.
This life is temporary. Earth is not our home, and God’s purposes far exceed what we see at the moment. I learned to accept the hardship I experienced through walking with God — not because someone came to me in those challenging years and told me, “I needed more faith” or even the face-punch of number 4 that “God wouldn’t give me more than I could bear.” God was at work in and through it all, and I am learning (slowly I may add) to trust him with all of it (Hebrews 6 tells us that, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So even in the darkest moment, we can still hope because it isn’t done until God makes the call and the trumpet sounds and we meet him in the air.
God made each of us differently. There is real beauty in that, but if we fail to see the differences in others with respect, then we miss a true gift. What is hard for me, might not be hard for you, so I can’t use myself as a gauge for your emotions. We experience life differently, so while that doesn’t change the moral code outlined in the Bible, it does mean that we may see life from another perspective. It’s when we come together that the whole picture can take place. Let’s be the body we were made to be and stand together through the hurts. Because as R.E.M sang so poignantly, “Everybody Hurts.”