We—the church—still say foolish words to those who are going through hardships. In response, hurting people still tend to be quick to overlook offenses under the heading of “well-intentioned,” though some comments can veer off from the naïve to the grossly insensitive. Those are harder to overlook. Church can be the most difficult place to go for those whose hardships are public.
Why does this happen, especially when there is so much good literature on the dos and don’ts of care? There are at least two reasons.
First, we don’t practice what we know. The Golden Rule is available to us all, and we still fumble it. Do to others as you would have them do to you. To this rule, many of us have added the words we have heard and read from suffering people. What not to do includes the following:
- Don’t give advice.
- Don’t try to solve the problem.
- Don’t say you are available any time but then don’t offer concrete ways to help.
- Don’t try to show your empathy by talking about a similar situation in your own life.
If we don’t act on these, we don’t love.
Second, good material is not getting dispersed to the wider church. Here is where a pastoral staff can make a difference. Gather together some of the helpful literature on how to care for those who are hurting. Nancy Guthrie’s book is excellent: What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts). More specific would be Marissa Henley’s Loving Your Friend through Cancer: Moving Beyond “I’m Sorry” to Meaningful Support. A short list of don’ts from her book is available on the P&R website. Or you could draw together your own list.
From that beginning, consider how you will get out the word.
- Talk to those who have gone through both short-term and long-term sufferings. What was helpful for them? What was hurtful? How did the church do?
- If you compile a short list of do’s and don’ts, send it out to the church. These are best sent with a clear biblical rationale.
- Create a small group study on the topic.
- Talk about it with your youth group. They already talk about hard things and have experience caring for each other.
- Consider a sermon series on suffering and include these specific directions in your sermon outline.
If we can’t eradicate foolish and hurtful words in the larger church, we can at least further equip the church that we serve.