In times of difficulty and suffering there are three vastly different types of comforters:
1) There is a group of comforters I like to call the “self-absorbed comforters.” They appear unfazed and unconcerned about those who are suffering around them (Luke 10:30-32; Jas 2:15-16). Initially, their lack of empathy/ sympathy is very hurtful to the sufferer. The sufferer wonders why a co-worker, friend, family member, or fellow Christian has made no attempt to help, but, once the initial jolt of sadness is overcome, the “self-absorbed comforter” is, for the most part, “out of sight, out of mind.”
2) On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “self-sacrificing comforters.” (Matt. 25:34-40). People in this group care, and they demonstrate their care by sacrificing time and resources for others in need (Luke 10:33-35). They know what to say, how to say it, and execute with precision the very things the sufferer needs. They demonstrate real empathy/sympathy for the sufferer, which results in mutual love and respect for one another. A self-sacrificing comforter helps both parties benefit from a tragic situation.
3) Unfortunately, there is a group of comforters who qualify as the “oblivious comforters.” It is not that these individuals do not care; it is that they do not know how to care. Comforters among this group are actually more aggravating and hurtful than self-absorbed comforters because, though they mean well, they say and do things that are very hurtful to the sufferer. To make matters worse, they think they are helping, so they associate often with the sufferer. Sufferers may quietly take mental abuse from these “oblivious comforters,” because they do not want to appear ungrateful for someone who is trying to help.
So how can we (notice I wrote “we”) avoid falling into the “oblivious comforters” group? We won’t be perfect all the time, but there are some things we can work on as we try to become better comforters. To get started, here a three things NOT to say to someone who is suffering:
- “You must have sinned.” Yikes! This is about the worst thing you can say to someone who is suffering mental and/or physical anguish. Remember, Job had his own group of “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). Do you know
what they did? They insisted, both implicitly (Job 4:3) and explicitly (Job 8:1-6; 11:3-4; 22:5-10), that Job had committed a great sin which resulted in physical suffering, but they were severely wrong! (Job 1:8). If truth be told, you do not have any idea if someone’s physical suffering is the result of a sin they committed, so don’t go down that ugly road. You might say, “well, I know my friend has cancer because he
2. “You look fine to me.” Ummm, if someone is suffering with a serious mental or physical challenge, they don’t care about how they appear to you; they care about how they actually feel. Can you imagine Jesus Christ saying, “You look fine to me” to those who sought him during mental and physical anguish? When the leper asked Jesus, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Mark 1:40), how did Jesus respond? Did He say, “You look fine to me!”? No, of course not! The Scripture records that Jesus was “moved with compassion” and said “I will; be thou clean” (1:41). If you want to help sufferers, you must take their word when they say, “I don’t feel well.” They are suffering whether you can see it or not. Instead of saying, “you look fine to me,” ask “how do you feel?”
3. “You will feel better in heaven.” It is true that the heaven is described as a place absent from tears, death, and sorrow (Rev. 21:4). It is also true that heaven can motivate someone to endure difficult circumstances here on earth (Heb. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). However, if the first words out of your mouth to someone who is suffering are “you will feel better in heaven,” you will likely come across as tone-deaf. The reality is, when someone is enduring chronic mental or physical anguish, heaven seems like an eternity away. It may not be, but that is how it feels. For instance, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 29, and I am currently suffering from many physical ailments that make day-to-day life mostly miserable. Do you think I want to envision, at this very moment, 30-50 years of persistent suffering before I get relief in paradise? Not really. I want to know how I can start feeling just a little bit better now. Instead of the first thing you say being, “you will feel better in heaven,” say “I want to help you today.” Discussions of heaven don’t have to be avoided all together, but let those discussions take place organically when the sufferer wants to take that journey.
Now let’s get out there and be great comforters to someone in need! Yet I Trust
You are so inspiring. Jesus hears all our prayers, I trust in the Lord.