By Emily Maurits
Note: I (Terry) came across this practical blog a few days ago and wanted to share it with you. See Emily’s bio and website information at the end of this post. What she writes stems from personal experience. She says, “Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, so I watch them. That’s hard, so I write about life as a ‘Watcher’ and what it looks like to support them and to find hope.”
One of my (Terry) goals as a blogger is to introduce you to Christian authors and bloggers who write on suffering in general, or depression or chronic pain in particular. Yet admittedly, this is the only article I have read from Emily. Chronic Joy Ministry, an outstanding organization that serves people with chronic physical illness or pain, as well as the mentally ill and caregivers, also used Emily’s post on their website.
I received Emily’s permission to use this article.
I sometimes find that encouragement feels like lying, especially when it comes to chronic illness.
I want to cheer up my sick family member or struggling friend, but when I search through my encouragement vocabulary, the gems I unearth are phrases such as:
“It will get better.”
“God will heal you.”
“Good will come of this, just you wait.”
These comments sound nice and hopeful. They are genuinely designed to lift someone’s mood, but often I find they don’t ring true.
How can I tell my loved one “It’s alright” when it clearly, obviously, is not?
How can I promise them “it will get better” or “God will heal you” or “good will come” when this might not be the case?
IS IT POSSIBLE TO ENCOURAGE SOMEONE WITHOUT LYING OR RESORTING TO CLICHES?
This is something I really struggle with. I want to speak into someone’s dark and awful situation, yet I don’t want to offer them falsehoods.
A simple way out would be to say nothing at all, but when someone you love shares part of his or her life, responding with silence is usually not an option.
Another response is simply, “I don’t know, I love you.” This can be powerful and effective and true but I believe we can do more than that.
We have been given words, and I believe it really is possible to use them to uplift and to encourage someone with a long-term illness.
How do we do that, exactly? Through much trial and error and failed attempts, here are 7 ways I’ve found to encourage without lying.
1. Admit that what they say is true.
It can actually be really encouraging to have someone affirm your words. It seems so obvious, and even too easy, but how often do we actually respond with words such as these:
“That really does sound awful. If I were in your place I would be feeling a bit down. It does sound like you don’t have much hope at the moment.”
When we affirm someone’s story, we are not only showing them that we’ve been listening, but also that we understand. We are validating their struggles and recognizing that their problems are real and genuinely difficult.
2. Tell them you wish you could take it away.
Perhaps this sounds odd, and even a bit obvious. I mean, of course we don’t want them to suffer! Of course we wish we could wave our magic wands and heal them! Yet how often do we take the time to say:
“I really wish there was something I could do to make you feel better. I wish you weren’t sick. I’d really like to be able to take your illness away.”
When we make declarations like these, we are verbally announcing that we are on their side and that they are not alone. Their struggles are ours. We feel for them, we groan with them, we weep and cheer with them. It is a reminder that they are deeply loved.
3. Tell them you love them.
Again, it sounds obvious. They should know that you love them, right? Still, when was the last time you said to someone hurting,
“I love you.”
This three-word phrase means a lot precisely because it often seems unnecessary or frivolous. It may seem like wasted words to tell someone we love him or her, but who knows what doubts we are setting to rest?
Social conventions may tell you it doesn’t need to be said, but why should we give in to our embarrassment when we have nothing to lose by trying?
4. Remind them it won’t always be this way.
You can’t promise someone they will get better, and you can’t know if they will get worse, but what you can offer is the reassurance that their situation will change in some fashion.
“It’s awful right now, but it won’t last forever. Things will change. I can’t say whether things will change for better or for worse, but you are not stuck where you are.” Nothing in life stays the same. This can be an immense encouragement when suffering seems eternal and time crawls by.
5. Remind them that there is hope for the future.
This is not a cliche or a falsehood. If our loved one believes in Jesus, we know that life on earth is not the whole story. There is a sure and certain hope in the future. God promises an eventual end to all pain, mourning, weeping, and death (Revelation 21:4). Yet as long as life endures there is also hope for their earthly future. Who knows what tomorrow will look like? Who knows what cures or advancements or changes in their disease will occur?
“It’s so hard right now, but you are alive. This is not the end of your story. There is still hope for a cure or for a miracle. And if it doesn’t occur now, then it will in eternity.”
When we remind someone of possibilities, we offer him or her encouragement.
6. Offer them Jesus.
The best and greatest encouragement is to point someone to Jesus. But how do you do that? If you are afraid of sounding cliche or corny, then simply tell the truth:
“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything to help you except offer you Jesus. He is good and gentle and kind. He understands and is holding you tight. He is here for you.”
7. Pray with them.
It doesn’t matter what you say. Simply sitting down with someone and bringing him or her before God without shame or fear is a gift. The person may not remember or even believe in your prayer, but your action can be an encouragement in itself.
From Terry: What other well-intentioned things do we say to people who hurt, yet which can come across as disingenuous or trite? What is something a person has said to you when you were hurting that meant a lot to you?