The events of the last eight months of my life have been challenging, to say the least. Within a matter of 4 weeks, my grandmother and my mother both passed away. I have experienced grief like never before. An amazing support group has surrounded me during this difficult time.
People have often tried to comfort me with their words. They mean well, I’m sure. However, there are a few things that you should never say when someone is grieving a loss.
- “There’s a new angel in heaven now.” Not one time in scripture is there evidence of people becoming angels. There are a few examples of angels having human-like qualities, but when people die, they do not become angels.
- “I know exactly how you feel.” Impossible. You may have experienced similar losses – even worse losses, but you can never know exactly how someone feels. Since you cannot possibly know exactly how someone feels, please don’t ever say that.
- “Time heals all wounds.” While this one actually has some truth within the cliché, I still would not say this to anyone who is going through a difficult time. When grieving, each day passes so slowly. The idea that time heals really offers very little comfort.
- And here is the doozie: ”God will never give you more than you can handle.” I’d better step up on my soapbox and start a new paragraph for this one.
Did you know the Bible never says that God will not give you more than you can handle? In fact, the Bible repeatedly says exactly the opposite. We can assume that this cliché is a misrepresentation of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
“He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” is not the same as “He will not give you more than you can handle.”
Woven throughout scripture is the idea that God receives more glory when we are pushed beyond our limits of what we think we can “handle.” His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God wants to use weak and willing vessels to portray His might.
A stuttering man frees the slaves in Egypt. (Moses)
A man who has never seen rain builds an ark and sustains the human race. (Noah)
A shepherd boy slays a giant. (David)
A prostitute has a hand in conquering the Promised Land. (Rahab)
A carpenter’s son, born in a barn, is the Savior of the world. (Jesus)
An accomplice to murder transforms into the greatest missionary. (Paul)
When God gives us more than we can handle, people look past us and see the God who is sustaining us. This is one of the most effective tactics that God uses to draw people to Himself.
Please don’t say these things to grieving loved ones about their loss. Typically people who offer these grief clichés are intending to demonstrate comfort and support. Erin Linn, who has written children’s books about grief, says, “Clichés are a manifestation of our innate inability to deal with a grieving person.”
So this soapbox begs the question, “What can we say to someone who is struggling with what God has allowed to happen?”
Here are a few suggestions:
- I am so sorry.
- Is there anything that I can do?
- I am praying for you and your family during this difficult time.
- I cannot imagine exactly how you are feeling, but if you would like to talk about it, then I am here.
Sometimes it is better to not say anything at all. This is the ministry of presence – just sitting with someone in his or her greatest time of need. If we must talk, then let’s attempt to offer helpful, theologically sound comfort as we speak. God has orchestrated his perfect plan, which includes the Christian community surrounding each other in times of need.
Let’s make the most of the opportunities that God gives us to comfort others.
*Photo credit: eflon