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What Should I Say When . . .
Linda Buxa
by Linda Buxa
November 18, 2014

I don’t know about you, but this being-a-grown-up thing kind of stinks. A quick poll of your friends (and your life!) will show you that life is hard—and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier. So while I keep impatiently waiting for the whole “with age comes wisdom thing,” I find it’s more like “With age comes knowing I should know what to say but finding myself tongue-tied.”

A few months ago Pastor Jeske shared ten things not to say at a funeral, but how do you react about something less final? What about a situation where there is no quick fix, when time might not heal all wounds, but instead will bring a whole lot of suffering, sadness, and setbacks? What do you say when your friend or family member tells you . . .

The doctor called. It’s cancer.
He’s leaving me.
I’m an alcoholic.
My daughter doesn’t believe in God anymore.
My mom had a stroke.

We won’t always get it right, but here are five things to say when you’re struggling to find the right words.

  1. “Let’s pray.” Then pray, right then and there—over the phone or in person. Ask for wisdom, courage, peace. Admit that you don’t know what God has planned but that you know he will carry you. Then let the person know you will keep on praying for him or her.
  2. “This stinks.” (Or a stronger word for stinks, if you want.) Or “This makes my heart hurt.” Because it does. Bad news is awful. Life is hard. So let’s not try to whitewash the pain.
  3. “I will be bringing you a meal. Does next Tuesday work?” Or “Which day would it help for me to watch your kids?” Make sure your suggestions are concrete. A vague “How can I help?” means the person has to come up with a way for you to pitch in when he or she already has enough to think about.
  4. “I wish I had the right words. This must be draining for you.” Job’s friends sat with him in silence for seven days. You don’t have to fix the problem, just be there.
  5. “Do you need someone to go to the doctor (or lawyer or support group) with you?” If you are a close enough friend, offer to be an advocate and part of your friend’s support circle. Facing the hard stuff alone can be scary.

Are there any I missed? What phrases have you found that are helpful during hard times? And . . . what things should we avoid saying?

Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. As someone who is quite chatty, she has stuck her foot in her mouth more often than she cares to admit.