How to Help Sufferers When You Don't Know What to Say
My heart ached as I read her message. Her precious, unborn baby had passed away in miscarriage. She was devastated. She was in despair. Her empty arms longed to hold her baby she would never meet.
I wanted to say something. I wanted to reply with words of grace and comfort, I wanted to take away her pain.
But I didn’t know what to say.
I had never experienced a miscarriage. In fact, I have a healthy baby growing in my womb. What could I say? How could I comfort her? I had no idea what her pain felt like, though I knew it must be grave.
Have you ever felt that heavy burden? A friend has just unloaded her suffering to you, and as you take it in you feel like a deer in the headlights. What do I say? How do I begin to bring truth to this hurt? Maybe you have offered words in the past and instantly regretted them. Or maybe you simply do not understand the pain they are feeling. Perhaps you have never dealt with the issue at hand and have no idea where to start.
Let’s turn to God’s Word and see how He guides us in times such as these.
Don’t Force Words
When you don’t have words to say, don’t try to come up with an answer just to have something to say. The Bible does not speak well of those who answer quickly. Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Proverbs 20:29 NASB). Also, He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him (Proverbs 18:13).
God doesn’t command us to always have an answer on the tip of our tongues the moment someone stops speaking. There are times when silence is better, and a listening ear can bring more comfort than one hundred words.
I have a friend that when I would send her a difficult heart question, she would often respond with, “I am going to pray about this, read Scripture, and get back to you.” I admire her for how careful she is with her words. She doesn’t respond rashly or immediately but takes time to wisely consider the question and her response.
When you don’t have words to say, it’s okay to be silent and listen. It’s okay if the only words you give are, “I’m so sorry,” or, “I can’t imagine the pain you feel right now.” And sometimes the wisest thing to do is to pray and search Scripture before giving a response.
Show A Kind Gesture
When someone is suffering, sometimes a kind act is a much better comfort than words. John reminds us, Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).
The simplest gesture you can show is sitting and listening. Those who are suffering often have a hard time expressing how they are feeling and processing it, so having someone who can listen and acknowledge their pain is a comfort. Though Job’s friends are often condemned for their unhelpful words to Job, they are commended for their first compassionate action:
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. ~Job 2:11-13
A few other ways you could show compassion to a suffering friend are:
- Offering help. Ask them how you can best serve them during this time.
- Give a thoughtful gift. A simple gift like flowers, hand-written cards/letters, a book, or a handcrafted item can speak volumes.
- Bake a meal. Cooking is probably one of the last things the sufferer wants to worry about right now. I’m sure it would be a comfort if you baked a hot meal for them.
- Help around the house or childcare. Once again, these are chores and duties that someone in the midst of suffering does not want to think about. Offering help with housework or taking care of their children could help relieve that stress.
This is a small list of ways you could show love to someone who is going through a difficult time when you don’t have words to say.
Let the Sufferer Lead
Everyone suffers differently. Some will go through the stages quickly, others may remain in sadness that leads to depression, and some may not show any signs of struggling at first but fall apart later. We each process life through a different set of lenses that are crafted by our experiences. We all handle the trials of life uniquely.
For that reason, there is no “blanket statement” you can give to sufferers, and there is no set time to speak for every situation. We need to let the sufferer lead. We offer advice and help when they are ready. And we give advice that suits them and their situation. Bring them to the passages of the Bible that will best touch their heart.
Remember the Sufficiency of Scripture
Finally, don’t forget the sufficiency of Scripture. Though the Bible is not like the DSM-V or an encyclopedia (offering information specific to every situation man will face), it is sufficient. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Though a passage may not speak to a specific issue or give direct comfort to an explicit trial, it is sufficient to give comfort and to grow those who are suffering—no matter what they are facing. When you don’t know what to say, you can take comfort knowing that God does and he has provided it in his Word.
When someone pours their heart out before us, we may want to provide those perfectly crafted, eloquent words of wisdom that others do. We may wish we could heal their pain with a lengthy discourse. But to show Christ, you don’t need those words. All you need is to listen and show kindness and trust the Word of God to work in their heart.