What Not to Say When Your Friends Are Hurting

How you might be using a new kind of profanity and not even know it.

BY BRIAN KAMMERZELT LIFE July 07, 2014

“I know you feel alone, but remember, you are never alone because God is always with you.”

Why do we do that? Why do we respond to someone’s vulnerability and present experience in this way?

We often say such things when we don’t know what to say. Or when we really don’t care enough to get involved. When we want the tense moment to pass so we can move on. As true as the above reply may be, when used that way we are disrespecting a moment of connection. That person likely presently feels physically and emotionally alone.

Eternal Truths were never to be used like smoke-bomb escape techniques or a magician’s trap door. They are to be held as holy and communicated with veneration. We should never say them simply because we don’t know what to say.

”I Will Pray for You.”

Prayer is far too great an intimately holy gift to reduce to a get-out-of-the-moment free card. Don’t say you will if you won’t. Pray with them right then. Or ask how you can pray for them.

”You Should Read This Verse.”

The Bible is certainly is a Living Word, but proof-texting someone’s pain is simply poor form. You should be looking to be living reference to the Truths in Scripture, not using Scripture to pass someone off.

”God Has Something Better Planned.”

God does not owe us anything. He may have something far worse in store—and that has to be OK too. There is a reason Job is the oldest book of the Bible. Instead of shifting attention to an unknown future, help them see God at work in the present experience.

”God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle.”

That is simply not true. Many experience far more than they can handle alone. Drawn from 1 Corinthians 10:13, not only is this verse specifically about temptation but has a corporate context. Sometimes people need help. If you find yourself saying this they are probably asking for help from you.

”You are Not Alone Because God is Always With You.”

Again, true, but if someone is expressing a profound loneliness they are looking to you to help lessen it and learn to know God’s sustaining presence. Too much of our theology is dismissive of the here and now. Be present in the moment with them.

”Everything Happens for a Reason.”

This well-meaning statement may have become the most “nothing” response to a painful situation. It does not mean anything and is clearly said more to alleviate not knowing what to say than their pain. Resist the urge to dodge the moment or provide something that sounds like an answer. Know that just being there is often enough.

When we force “capital ‘T'” truths into the “lowercase ‘t'” truths of someone’s present experience we squeeze out their humanity—making both feel like a lie.

Sacred Truths were never meant to cover up or hide the truths of what someone is experiencing in the here and now. It makes a person’s present experience feel pointless and meaningless, amplifying loneliness or frustration.

Irreverent to both the Truths we intend to share and the person we are commanded to love, it’s sacrilege. In that respect, more than lame platitudes, such statements become a new kind of profanity. “Profane” can be defined as “to treat something sacred with irreverence or disrespect.”

Vulnerable moments are sacred spaces to be treated with the utmost reverence and respect. We far too often desecrate it with christianese graffiti, recklessly applying theology we misunderstand and treating it like a method to be applied to a solvable situation.

Better someone offer up a traditional four-letter “swear word” out of shared lament than reduce deeply held beliefs into platitudes thrown at pain. We should find this type of profanity far more offensive and treat it accordingly.

When you say such things in this profane manner your impulse should be to throw your hand over your mouth and apologize profusely as if you just let an “F-bomb” slip out at the most inappropriate time. If you find yourself dropping this new profanity, stop, apologize and begin again.

So, the next time someone dismissively “encourages” you to wrestle through this season in the journey God has you on, tell them to watch their mouth. I’ll get the soap.

Brian Kammerzelt

BRIAN KAMMERZELT

Brian Kammerzelt is an assistant professor and chair of the communications department at the Moody Bible Institute. For more information, visit www.critiquebycreating.com or follow him on Twitter @ProfKammerzelt.

2 thoughts on “What Not to Say When Your Friends Are Hurting

  1. Great reminder that silence is often the best response in any given situation. Honestly, it’s something I’ve struggled with over the years.

  2. Wow. So timely. I am going through a hard place and I JUST wrote a post on my blog (lakesidelessons.blogspot.com) this week called Permission to Grieve which highlights the truths in this article – the way I felt and the way my pastor handled the interaction are proof of what you lay out here. What confirmation. Thank you!

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