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"You can't put a bandaid on it" or "Things you shouldn't say to someone who is suffering."

The youth pastor of our congregation in New Orleans would say this a lot.  He was very straightforward and direct about people who would have a "simple answer/spiritual remedy" for someone who was struggling and/or suffering.  As someone who had experienced suffering, I appreciated the statement and could relate to it's truth.  So that is the title of today's post.  I'm writing this because a) it's something that I know and I was always told, "Write about what you know.", b) I have friends and relatives who are currently experiencing suffering, and c) after perusing the internet, I didn't find any articles that thoroughly tackled the subject.  There are two that deal with the topic (one references the other).  Here is the link to one:  I included the duplicate title since there seems to be a trend in blogposts titled "X (insert number) things you shouldn't say to X (insert person and topic).

So with 1) "It could be worse" and 2) "What is God teaching you through this?" covered in the above post, I'll move on to the statements I remember hearing.  I hope that readers will understand that while their motives might be well-meaning, attempts to make things better by offering a "verbal" bandaid, often leave us feeling worse than before and why.  Hopefully, it will give you some insight into how to step along side a friend/relative and walk with them for a while.  There is no order of importance to these statements.  All of them are hurtful in different degrees. 

1) "It'll get better."  The corollary of "It could be worse!"  Alternate phrasing "God has a plan for you through this."

     I knew that, I still know it.  I think anyone "staying afloat" while suffering knows that. So, why shouldn't you say it? I mean doesn't it offer hope? Yes, but it is a future hope, and while it helps us hold on, it doesn't necessarily help us where we are now.  I get it that perspective is good.  But, in my case, I was often left wondering "when?" and it's possible that the person saying it left feeling like they'd offered me hope and therefore eased my suffering.  Even if you've survived suffering and got to the "better", I would encourage you not to just say this statement.  Nope.  Better option, "May I pray with you?"

2) "You need to pray more."

Really?  You don't think the person you're saying this to isn't praying.  I prayed constantly.  When saying this statement, it equates prayer with money and implies that we don't have enough, or that God has to hear a certain number of prayers before he answers. Yes, there is the story of the persistent widow but the lesson there is not the amount of prayers, but the woman's character.  She did not give up asking until the judge granted her request.  For us that are suffering, we understand prayer, and we're not quitting until we have God's answer/provision.  Better option, "I'll keep praying with you/for you."

3) "You need more faith."  Also phrased as "You just need to believe that God will heal you."  "You need to confess your healing and walk in it."

Seriously???  Please don't ever, ever, ever, say this to someone who is believing God for a miracle.  I can't tell you how many times I heard this statement or it's equivalent "You don't have enough faith."  It caused so much doubt in my mind about God's character, about my worth, and about my salvation.  Again, it equates faith with a commodity, if you have enough you can get something, if not, oh well, better luck next time.  The Bible compares faith to a mustard seed that then grows into a mighty tree.  It's not about the amount of faith.  It's about an unshakable belief that God, despite what my circumstances looked like, had not forgotten me, and had a plan and a purpose for my life.  Most of us have that.  Again, it's what keeps us moving forward despite pain, weakness, or other suffering.  Better option: "Let's pray and ask God for mercy/grace."

3) "There's unconfessed sin in your life." 

All I'm going to say about this statement is "Read the book of Job".  If you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so.  Discover who gets rebuked and who gets "blessed out of their socks".  If you have read it, learn from the story and erase this statement from your mind.   I was told this one a lot as my suffering extended beyond 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, ....  it did nothing to alleviate my suffering, but rather sent me into a downward spiral of emotional, mental, and spiritual pain and anguish, much like Job experienced.  Better option:  Go sit with your friend/relative.  Watch a movie, tell jokes, eat a meal together (if he/she wants/can). Just be with them.  Ask them if you can help them clean/cook/drive them on an errand, etc.


I'm not sure why, in general, we're uncomfortable with suffering.  I have some ideas that I'll save for another article.   When talking about my years of chronic illness, (I was diagnosed with kidney failure and was on dialysis for 5 years) I always say that those years were harder on my mom than they were on me.  For me, the pain was tangible.  I knew where it was and I learned how to cope with it and how to disassociate from it.  She didn't know what I was feeling and couldn't do anything to make it better.   So, she would stand at the foot of my hospital bed and rub my feet and pray.  There were so many times I would fall asleep with her standing there and wake up hours later and she was still there.  Her presence and her hands on my feet did a lot to make the pain manageable. 

There are so many other "bandaids" that are thrown out by people.  Someone who has a scratch or minor injury needs a bandaid.  Someone with a life threatening injury needs emergency treatment and then long term care to recovery.  It's the same with suffering, especially chronic, we don't need "verbal" bandaids.  Again, I think it's well meaning, but still hurtful.  Please consider carefully the words you say to someone who has a chronic illness or condition.  Better to listen to them, sit with them, offer practical assistance, or ask how you can pray with them and then do whatever it is that they ask.



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