Sometimes it’s challenging to know what to say and how to interact with someone going through a difficult time. Our well-meaning words and gestures can sometimes have the opposite effect of what we intend.
Here are five helpful tips for the next time you reach out to someone experiencing a tough situation.
- Don’t share horror stories.
When Kara began to have pregnancy complications, most of the women who reached out to her offered valuable advice. However, one woman, who honestly thought she was being helpful, shared about all the difficulties she had while being pregnant, some were downright frightening. Unfortunately, such commentary only caused Kara to become more anxious.
Do be encouraging.
If someone you know is going through a health struggle that you yourself have been through, seek to be an encourager. Rather than sharing about the fearful things you experienced, listen with a heart full of empathy. “I can understand how you feel, as I’ve been there. Is there anything I can do to help you through this painful illness/disease?”
- Don’t share “too good to be true” stories.
Conversely, be aware that not everyone’s situation mimics yours. When Simon became ill with the worst case of influenza he’d ever experienced, it was difficult for him to be laid up and unable to do his job as a personal trainer. His cousin, while likely trying to be optimistic, shared that a guy he knew healed in a far lesser time than Simon was taking to heal and had fewer complications.
Do be compassionate.
Remember that not everyone heals in the same manner or in the same time frame. Our bodies have all been designed differently, and some bodies heal more quickly or more slowly than others. Rather than offer comparisons, offer to run errands or ask in what way you can assist.
- Don’t put on the guilt trip.
When Mike lost his job and struggled with depression, a well-intentioned neighbor offered the unsolicited advice that if only Mike had a stronger faith, he would already have another job and would certainly not be dealing with depression. Mike began to doubt his faith and struggled with the question of why God hadn’t helped him with the depression or in finding another job so he could support his family. The guilt trip caused him to slink further into despair.
Do offer to pray with and for someone who is struggling.
Offer to listen, without judgment, when someone facing a trial needs to talk. Even those with strong faith can have struggles, suffer from depression and anxiety, and go through serious trials. In Mike’s case, offering to keep an ear out for job leads would have been much more helpful.
- Don’t force your “remedies”.
Laura’s breast cancer came as an utter surprise. She’d always figured she was in good health and had no cancer in her family history. Working with a wide range of medical professionals, Laura began a treatment course that she felt, after much prayer, was best suited to her. “While most people were supportive, I did have a couple of people who thought that if I would just try their supplements or oils, I would be healed in an instant. While I have always been one to try a more holistic approach to illnesses, this situation was a bit different for me, and I tried a mixture of conventional, as well, as holistic therapies. When someone is struggling with a serious, possibly even terminal illness, it never helps to force your remedies on them with unrealistic claims that may not work.”
Do give an open-ended suggestion.
Many times, those of us who truly love the health field and are knowledgeable about certain issues are eager to offer a single solution as the only way. While there is definitely nothing wrong with sharing your wisdom and confidence in remedies you have found helpful, your method of delivery is key. Supporting the person in their choices is imperative. If you do have an alternative idea, phrase it in a thoughtful and less insistent way.
- Don’t make it all about you.
When Melinda’s husband suffered a heart attack with a lengthy recovery, she never expected to be at odds with a friend over it. “My friend told me how hurt she was that I wasn’t there to help her move into her new house. There just wasn’t anything left of me to give. I was already caregiving for my husband and managing all of my regular household duties, along with a full-time job. I know she was hurt that I wasn’t able to give her the assistance she needed, but it came off like it was all about her.”
Do make it all about them. When tough times arrive, whether it be health issues, a divorce, loss of a loved one, or loss of employment, people need to know you care. They need to know that you are praying for them, looking out for their best interests, and will do whatever is necessary to partner with them in getting through the trial.
Before you talk with someone, pray that God would guide your tongue so you can offer truly helpful advice that will encourage and not hinder. When tough times arrive, the best blessing you can give is to let someone know you are there and are praying for them.
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