What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

comforting another (1)

A friend’s husband unexpectedly moves out. 

Your sister is passed up for the promotion she just knew she’d get.

Someone you care about loses someone close to them.

A co-worker is diagnosed with cancer.

Life is replete with circumstances and situations—some more challenging than others.

With the past week of natural disasters, many of us know someone who has been affected.

We have all been found ourselves in the position to comfort a friend in crisis. As Christians, we are expected to bring light, love, and comfort to others. But for most of us, this can be awkward, difficult and confusing.

All too often, well-meaning loved ones, say the wrong thing out of desperation to “do” something. In the middle of pain, grief, anxiety, depression, and loss, most words of comfort can seem shallow.

So, what do you say when words just don’t seem enough?

I never really gave this thought until after my mom died. I knew people only wanted to help, but honestly, many times their words stung. Or worse, they just stayed away. Since that time, I have been in the position to bring comfort to others from a brand new perspective.

1. Simple is best

I’m here for you.

I love you.

Can I give you a hug?

2. Listen

Many times, when in crisis, we just want someone to listen.

Be sure and make eye contact and nod, letting your loved one know you are listening. Communicate concern and understanding by repeating phrases you’ve heard or even asking for clarification.

“A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.” Ecc 3:7

3. Keep personal stories to yourself until they have shared

It’s natural to want to share a similar situation, but resist the temptation until your loved one has shared. This is their time to grieve and your time to bring comfort. Ask God to guide your words. Sometimes sharing a similar experience is appropriate and other times it might minimize what your loved one is going through.

4. Pray

Ask if you can pray. It doesn’t need to be complicated. A simple prayer asking God to bring comfort and love is just fine.

5. Read Scripture

The Psalms are full of comforting verses. Here are only a few.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27:1

“Now let your unfailing love comfort me,
    just as you promised me, your servant.” Psalm 119:76

“The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,
    a refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9

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6. Offer to help

Even if your friend says there is nothing you can do, you aren’t off the hook.

Bring a meal. Mow the yard. Watch the kids. Pick up groceries.

7. Check in over time

Often, at the beginning of a crisis, many people are available. Over time, people get back into the rhythm of typical life. Set an alarm on your phone or on your calendar to check in a month, two months, even six months down the road.

Being there for our friends and loved ones during a crisis is a privilege. This is an opportunity to share the love of Christ like no other.

Remember, just showing up with a loving and open heart can be the best medicine.

Do you have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

  1. So true, Becky. I have witnessed all of the above and the fallout can be quite devastating. In some instances, they take years to resolve. If only a simple conversation could make a difference. Everyone responds to trauma and crises differently. Compassion can be learned and it certainly takes years of practice and patience to get right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sabiscuit, You are so right in saying it may take years. That is why it is important to check in with our loved ones and friends months after the crisis. I think when we ourselves have experienced loss and difficulties, God can use those experiences to learn compassion— if we will allow Him to, that is.
      Thanks for commenting.
      Blessings to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just as the crises in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we must be in it for the long haul for those who need love and comfort. Beckie, I loved your advice to set reminders to make that phone call or personal visit. Those can make all the difference in someone’s day.
    When I lost my husband, John, years ago, what meant the most to me were those friends who always “checked in” to see how I was doing. They were willing to listen, to offer sympathy, and just be present. They were such a key to healing the hurt I felt at that time.
    To all your readers, I would say, take the time it takes to love as God loves you. It does make a difference for the better!
    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beckie, I have been following you since your blog on praying for President Trump.
    I write copy your blog “lessons” in my daily planner. Today is a rainy day in North Carolina, and as
    I’ve just read this post, I am going to send out some cards to people I love who I know may be having a rough day as they just recently lost a parent. I always miss my mom and dad on rainy days… so I can just use that reason as why I am thinking of them today!!
    Mema Jeanne, NC

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mema, You made my day! I’m over the moon happy that you were inspired to send cards to people who recently lost there parents.
      Thank you for following and for taking the time to share.
      Blessings to you and yours!

      Like

  4. I’m one of those people who gives hugs and tries to say as little as possible. Where I get stuck is knowing how to help. Having been rebuffed in the past it’s hard to know the most effective thing to do. I love your suggestion—especially about having reminders on the calendar. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Elihu, I think hugs and just being there is great. It is hard to know how to help. Most people appreciate a meal. I’ve called and said, “I’m going to the store, what can I pick up for you?” “How about I come over Thursday and watch the kids for a few hours?” Rather than, “Let me know how I can help.”
    Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  6. I experienced all this after my father died a few months ago. I found myself needing to forgive people whose words hurt even though they were trying to be nice. Now I know much more about what’s good and right to say…and that sometimes, we don’t need to say anything.
    Thanks for laying out such good suggestions for all of us, Beckie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol, First of all, my sympathies go out to you. Thanks for sharing about your dad. I’ll keep you in prayer, dear sister.
      Secondly, I’m sorry you experienced some of the same things I did after my mom passed. But, as you expressed, we learn from these times. God equips us through them to be a comfort to others when they go through a similar experience.
      I’m so glad you found the article helpful.
      God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

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