Guest Article — Just what do you say when others experience crosses?

by Holly Scheer

999-330There are defining moments that stick with us, both of the good and bad variety. When things go well we can share our joy with others. When things go sour we can share our heartache.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when things are bad. Sometimes the words aren’t there. Sometimes you try to say something and it comes out wrong.  The feeling of causing additional pain to someone already suffering is terrible.

What do you say when a situation defies easy platitudes? What do you say when there’s no quick comforting verse on the tip of your tongue, when you can’t think of a hymn that applies?

I know that I struggle with words. I tell people that I’m praying for them, keeping them in my prayers, and I do. Sometimes I don’t know what else to say. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing else to say.

Even if you don’t have comforting words please try to say something when you have a friend or family member going through a really hard time. You don’t have to have the answers.  Sometimes the offer of prayer or “Lord have mercy” or simply “I am sorry” is all that needs to be said.  Don’t be silent in fear of saying the wrong thing.

We are having some hard days in our family right now. A dear family member is sick with cancer and it aches seeing a life so impacted. It stinks being so far away. We also have a child who struggles with a chronic health issue and recently had a really scary event.

Many people have had comforting words. Some of the most comforting have surprised me. Someone told me they couldn’t imagine and didn’t know what to say, and had spent a bunch of time trying to think of something and come up with nothing more than, “I’m sorry.” For some reason hearing that really stuck with me.

Sometimes there isn’t anything else to say. Sometimes there aren’t anecdotes that help. No plucky quips about how fast things will be better.

We are blessed as Lutherans. Every frightening event, untimely illness, every death that rocks us- we are blessed. We don’t walk this road alone. Even when those around us are at a loss for words, we are not alone. We have perfect comfort in the certainty of the grace of our Lord. We have the joy of baptism and knowing that we are held close in the arms of our Savior. We commune with all the host of Heaven in the Divine Service.

We don’t need to find the perfect words or actions. Most times in this fallen world there isn’t a perfect way to help those around us. We cling to our Lord and His true peace.


Guest Article — Just what do you say when others experience crosses? — 10 Comments

  1. I remember when my fiancee died a few years ago one of the hardest things to do was listen and be polite with everyone telling me how things would get better etc etc. While I knew it was true and I knew they were right and just trying to help, it just made things worse. There were many reasons for the fact that it made things worse and I couldn’t put my finger on just one that was the biggest, but the best I can do is it felt like people were trivializing the pain and loss I was going through. What helped the most were the people who admitted they had no idea what to say, or that they knew it wouldn’t help but they were sorry and were praying, or who would simply talk to me about something else entirely. Maybe my experiences were different from everyone else but this is just what I remember from a situation this post seems to be referring to.

  2. Holly, I am sorry that your family is going through this, and I thank you for sharing that, along with words of encouragement for others. May I add one other suggestion?

    Sometimes a well thought out note or card containing Scripture passages can be comforting to those experiencing the burdens of their crosses in this life. The lost art of letter writing and card sending in this high tech world needs a little revival IMO. As someone who through the years has lost both parents and two sons, along with other close friends and relatives, I still occasionally pull out a meaningful card written by a dear friend during those past seasons of grief and am still comforted.

  3. I believe we should always pray for and comfort those in troubled situations, and offer to help where possible, but Intercessory prayer on their behalf is essential. My late mother used to say all of the time, “there but for the grace of God go I.” When she saw a poor soul, a homeless person, an alcoholic, someone in need, she would remind us children to always show compassion and empathy. We must remember we too will face trials, and our faith tested.

  4. Come to learn from Professor John Pless, August 4 – 6 at Faith Lutheran Church, Rogue River, Oregon, August 4 – 6, 2014 in a continuing education class of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne. Toward a Pastoral Theology of Suffering: Responding to the Why Questions. He will address this issue. Thank you for raising this issue and how we respond to suffering in our lives.

  5. @Matt Mueller #1
    What helped the most were the people who admitted they had no idea what to say, or that they knew it wouldn’t help but they were sorry and were praying, or who would simply talk to me about something else entirely

    I’m sorry for your loss, Matt, and no, it’s not different except that it happened to you. People think they have to tell you something and it seldom “helps”. Maybe later; maybe never. That they cared enough to come to the funeral, that helps. [Sometimes; sometimes not.] 🙁

    My son died suddenly at 44. The most inane comment, (and it wasn’t just once) was, “A mother shouldn’t have to bury her child.” [Unless I’m dead myself, it’s happening. What do you want me to do about still being alive!? (But of course you can’t say that!)]

    [My mother “buried a child” (my sister); my grandmother “buried a child”, (her second son and my father). What would make me “special”?
    But of course, they didn’t know those things and it wasn’t the time to tell them.]

    “I’m sorry” is safe to say to survivors, (if you are sorry). Otherwise, shake hands, give a hug if you are inclined that way, and maybe send a little “Thinking of you” note in 6 mos or a year, if you are thoughtful.
    (One person did; I’m grateful to that person to this day.)

  6. Many times, just make time to listen, take it in with them, offer yourself as a place where the trials and tribulations of life can be hurled at a good listener. Then offer them, “Would you mind me praying for you?” “Now or later?” Then offer them simply this, “I am here for you”. “Anytime”.

  7. Sometimes you can’t even be there; all you can do is say “I’m thinking about you and praying that God’s will be done for you.

    The current problems I have on my mind are indeed, “other people’s crosses”. And yet, if they are friends, it can’t help but be your concern, too, if only in your prayers. Holly, I’ll add you to mine.

  8. Taking time to listen is important. Sometimes the person with the loss wants to talk about the circumstance of it over and over again. Take time to be patient and listen. The fine art of reflexive responses is also useful if not overdone.

    Our congregation also sponsors a bereavement group which has proven very helpful and a good outreach.

  9. Ps 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
    These are the words my sister emailed me when she heard that our grandson had died. Nothing else. Nothing else was needed. I was comforted.

  10. In my lay counseling training, one of the first things we encountered was a lesson about what not to say, like, “I know what you are going through.” And we were encouraged to be comfortable with just being present silently. Sometimes asking about a loss months later — on a birthday, anniversary, or holiday — can mean a great deal, simply because you remembered.

    There are some good thoughts out there on the ‘net. Search “what to say to the grieving” and you will find some helpful articles. Here are a couple

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