Two days ago, we had a little Christian gripe session.
I asked you what has God done lately that made you mad. And there was no shortage of responses. I even had several responses come to my inbox.
I have to admit, I didn’t respond to a lot of comments. Why?
Because in a lot of ways, I’m not a great pastor. And this is one of those ways. I just don’t know what to say to someone who’s life is in Suck-Ville, Population: 1. I want to console people without sounding trite or phony. I just haven’t found a way to yet.
I’ve certainly tried to find the right words by process of elimination. Today, I’m featuring all of the responses I could’ve written to your stories of woe. Maybe by the end, we can figure out an all-purpose sympathy phrase and make each other feel better!
What Not To Say To Someone Whose Life is No Fun
“Things will get better.”
How do you know? I’ve known people who were like human lightning rods. I can’t explain it, but every week is a new disaster. What if things don’t get better? What was the phrase we learned as children? “Life isn’t fair.” If life isn’t fair, then there’s no reason things have to get better.
“I’m praying for you.”
This is our go-to consoling phrase, and I guess it does feel good to know that other people are praying for us. But it’s still tricky. If I don’t believe God hasn’t listened to my prayers, and now my life is in the dumps, how much faith am I going to put in someone else’s prayers to the same God who orchestrated the mess I’m in?
“All we can do is pray.”
On the flipside, you hear this a lot when there is no hope in a hospital room or something like that. Saying this just makes prayer sound like a last resort that you know won’t really work.
“Whenever God closes a door…”
Guess what? I don’t want to have to go through a window. And besides that, sometimes, it’s just a closed door with no window.
I probably don’t understand, really. And I shouldn’t pretend your problems are so simple that I really understand them.
“Maybe you need to repent of some sin.”
Invoked in personal tragedies and natural disasters, this line of thinking is no different than ancient people believing it wasn’t raining because the gods were mad. God said that the rain falls for good and bad people. If every bad thing in your life happens because of something you did that pissed God off, then we’re back to square one with a god of carrots and sticks rather than grace.
“At least you don’t have it as bad as that guy.”
Great. My problem doesn’t count because it’s not as “big” as someone else’s problem. Guess what? If my foot is chopped off, it doesn’t make me feel any better that someone else got his leg chopped off. I still don’t have a foot, and I’m mad because I loved my foot. I get that I still have a lot to be thankful for. But have you ever been around someone that just had to top everyone else’s stories by saying, “That’s nothing…” Annoying, isn’t it?
“I hope you find peace and contentment.”
I don’t know how we got on this kick about being “content” in everything, but I don’t think it’s possible. The Bible doesn’t say to be “content,” it says to be “joyful,” which is a Bible-y way of saying, “Buck up and quit being a crybaby.” Things might never turn out the way you want, and you have to find a way to live with that. But telling someone to find contentment or peace in a bad situation just sounds to me like, “I hope you find the strength to give up trying.”
“God works all things for good.”
I may believe that, but I don’t think it all turns out good in this lifetime. We can die with a lot of things still wrong. Better to save this one until something actually turns out well.
Whenever my wife knows she’s blowing some little problem out of proportion, I summon the bare minimum of male empathy I can muster and respond with this phrase and an emotionally neutral pat on the back. Works every time.
Sometimes, I feel like the best thing I can do is just shut up and say, “Wow, that does suck. But I care about you.” I can’t defend God’s actions or motives. He shouldn’t need me to. I don’t know how anything will turn out. All I can do is tell someone what I know for sure, that I care about them. And rather than saying “at least my life isn’t as bad as that guy’s,” I can read my Bible and take comfort in the fact that when my life is terrible, I’m in good company.
But like I said, I’m terrible at these things. So what do you do when someone you care about gets hit hard with life? Any other phrases that belong on the list?