If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!”
When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.
And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.
When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.
Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.
But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.
Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.