When we know people in our life are struggling, “what do I say to them?” is often the wrong question we ask ourselves. There’s a better question we can ask that will comfort and encourage people. Listen in to learn more.

Episode 148 left us hanging

Episode 148 from last week talked about five things NOT to say to people close to us who are going through a rough patch in their life. I’ll have a link to it in the show notes.

So if we know what not to say, then what are helpful things we could say?

We’ll tackle this question in today’s episode.

Words matter

I love words. I love people who write them well. I like how Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and other best-selling memoirs uses words. He incorporated as a company simply called “Donald Miller’s Words.”

Our daughter has a friend who does free-lance copywriting. She calls her business “Words for Sale.”

I like Anne Lamont and how she uses words. Of the many books she’s written, one of my favorites is her book about 3 types of prayer. It’s called Help. Thanks. Wow. Three simple words. Three powerful prayers. In talking about the wow of God, she frequently uses the phrase, “It’s God showing off.” It’s the best description of sunsets, the Grand Canyon, and childbirth I can think of – God showing off.

In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, he repeats the phrase “God is especially fond of you” in addressing, Mack, the main character of the book. What a beautiful phrase and powerful theological truth. “God is especially fond of you”

These are all beautiful words.

Words have their limits

But words have their limits when it comes to knowing what to say to people going through a rough patch in their life. I find myself saying things like, “I am so sorry you’re having to deal with this.” It’s truly how I feel, but it seems hollow sometimes.

When it comes to our friends dealing with a death, we often say “I’m sorry for your loss”, or if it’s a sudden, tragic death, “I have no words.” And that’s the problem, we often don’t have words to express how we feel inside for the pain someone close to us is experiencing. So few of us are like Donald Miller, Anne Lamont, or William Young with our words.

I so wish we had a larger menu, like they have at Chinese restaurants, of comforting words and phrases to choose from.

Beyond Words

But then I think, are better words really the answer? It seems to me words are just a means to an end, not the end itself. We use words to connect us with people, to show how our emotions align with theirs. To let them know we want to be part of the journey they are on in dealing with a loss or difficulty in their life.

Words are the dots to connect our heart with the heart of another.

Maybe there are other ways beyond words that connect us with each other.

In last week's episode, I mentioned our friend whose 40-something daughter became very ill, and how our friend was filling in for her daughter by managing the household, helping her son-in-law, and caring for her grandkids. The weight of all that had to be done was overwhelming for our friend. Preparing meals, dealing with the ever-growing pile of laundry. All at the time she was caring for her very-sick daughter.

What do I say to a friend who’s feeling overwhelmed like this?

My first thoughts went to one of the things mentioned in episode 148, God Never gives us more than we can handle. Thankfully I resisted that thought. Then several Bible verses came to mind. Verses I know our friend was well schooled in. Verses about how God is always there for us, how God cares for us when we are struggling. She may have even memorized them.

When our friend shared the bad news about her daughter I don’t remember saying anything, I just listened. And gave her my handkerchief she used to dab the tears from the corner of her eyes. It was the best I could do at the moment.

A helpful quote

Days later I came across a quote that I sent in a text to our friend. I wrote:

“Here’s a quote from Seth Godin I came across the other day that reminded me of you when you feel overwhelmed with doing all that your daughter does to manage the household. Godin said,

‘I’m pretty confident that when the Titanic went down, the deck chairs were cleaned and well-ordered. It’s a shame no one talked about the icebergs.’”

And then I added, “Keep up the good work in keeping your priorities straight! I’m continuing to pray for your daughter.”

In my thinking, the housework that was crying out for attention was her deck chairs on the Titanic. The physical and emotional needs of her daughter were the icebergs – the most important things to attend to.

All analogies break down at some point, but in using the words from this quote I was trying to affirm her wisdom in caring for her daughter at the expense of the piles of laundry. It was the best I could do at the moment.

Sometimes the best we can do to connect with people is to show we are thinking about them and remembering their struggles, even when we’re not together. Our words are not as important as what we do.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

I wonder if there are people in your life going through a difficult time who would appreciate you connecting with them. And maybe doing so without words. Connect with them by showing you haven’t forgotten their struggles and that you are paying for them.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

When people in our life are struggling, “What do I say to them?” isn’t as important a question to ask as “What can I do?”

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode.


In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to reflect and to act by letting someone you know who’s struggling that you haven’t forgotten them. That you are praying for them, and that they are not alone in whatever difficulty they are going through.

It will bring out the best in you and go a long way in helping you experience the joy of relationships God intends for you. Because as you know by now, You Were Made for This.

That’s it for today. In the meantime, spread a little joy in your relationships this week. Until we meet up again next week, goodbye for now.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

148: What Not to Say When Bad Things Happen to Good People

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

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