When I’m going through a difficult time—whether the loss of a loved one, a pandemic, a relationship break-up, or the loss of a job—I want only two things: prayer and empathy.
What I usually get—and sometimes give—are patronizing platitudes. Such as, “It'll be okay.” Are you serious? I don't feel like it's going to be okay. I feel like manure in the rain. Or, “Just trust God. It'll all work out. God's got this.” Easy to say when the person isn’t wearing my shoes. I know God has my best interests at heart—unless I'm an unrepentant axe murderer—and I do trust Him. Speaking to someone as if they don’t isn’t helpful.
Another favorite is “When one door closes, another one opens.” If I'm standing in front of a row of locked doors and don't have a doggone key, that doesn’t comfort me. Nor does, “They're in a better place.” How do we know? Not everyone is going to a better place when they check out of Hotel Terra, so this saying may only be a cup of sweetened vinegar.
“Are you okay?” is another common platitude. If I just got dumped or fired or lost my best friend or my dog died, then I am not the least bit okay. I'm feeling overwhelmed and anxious. It's a fresh wound.
And here’s one more. “It's all part of God's plan. He's got something better for you.” That may be true, but when we’re in quicksand and our faces are going under, we don’t feel that way.
Some better ways to come alongside our friends when they’re under the bus are to ask how we can pray for them, to ask if there is anything we can do for them, and to tell them we are there if they need to talk. And if they want to talk, be quiet and listen.
Provide a feast of empathetic encouragement to others while holding back the patronizing platitudes.
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