Be careful of what not to say when bad things happen to good people. Comfort others by letting them see your heart aching with theirs. Your presence will have more power than your words. Listen in to learn more.

Too much time spent on Caring Bridge

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

It started with going to the funeral of a former student of mine when I taught high school English back in the 70s. Janet and I re-connected with her and her husband several years ago before cancer invaded her body, and finally took her life. What do you say to her husband? To her children and grandchildren?

Shortly thereafter, a good friend met with us to tell us through her tears and halting breathe, that her 40-something daughter was just diagnosed with colon cancer. It’s quite advanced, and everyone in the family is in a state of shock.

Then several days ago another good friend, a missionary, emailed to say the baby born to his son and daughter-in-law that morning was stillborn. The doctors don’t know what caused a healthy heartbeat to suddenly stop shortly before birth. It was to be our friend’s first grandchild. The entire extended family is devastated.

What do you say to people in situations like this?

What not to say

I can across a helpful blog post several years ago by Tim Pyles, who is the preaching minister at the Broken Arrow Church of Christ in suburban Tulsa, Oklahoma. In his blog post, he shares five things NOT to say in situations like the ones I described in the beginning. I’ll share excerpts that I hope you will find useful. The first example of “what not to say” is Everything Happens for a Reason.

Everything Happens for a Reason

“No it doesn’t.  Not even close,” Pyles writes.  “This is one of those statements that is almost in the Bible.  Though it may sound like an affirmation of unqualified faith in a sovereign God, in actuality it slanderously accuses God of cruelty and injustice and impugns His divine will.  Romans 8:28 is frequently used as a proof text for this unbiblical notion, but that passage doesn’t teach that all earthly outcomes are somehow the result of a micro-managing, manipulative Deity.

“Read the passage carefully.  ‘Everything happens for a reason’ is a quotation from Marilyn Monroe, not the Messiah.

“Since I have written about this statement previously, I won’t further belabor the point here.  See “Everything Happens for a Reason, Right?” for a lengthier discussion and explanation.”

[Note: I’ll have a link to this article at the end of the show notes]

The author continues with the second thing not to say:

God won’t give you more than you can handle.

“Again, close, but no.  Almost in the Bible, but not!…. Such a statement suggests that God’s divine hand is on a celestial spigot of suffering, determining and divvying out tragedies and heartaches based on His assessment of our ability to ‘handle it.'  It is not only wrong and hurtful, but insulting, to suggest to someone that their immense suffering is somehow a divine ‘compliment.'”

Let me pause for a moment and add that God sometimes DOES give us more than we can handle in order to encourage us to depend on him. His glory is so often demonstrated in our weakness and inability to deal with the things the world throws at us. Giving us more than we can handle can connect us more deeply with God if we allow it to.

Back to the blog post with item number 3 of what not to say:

God is in control

“Ultimately, yes; God reigns supreme and unrivaled over the whole of His creation…

… Offered as a response to a tragic loss, “God is in control,” comes across as yet another hollow platitude, and, worse, one that wrongfully lays the blame for our suffering squarely at the foot of God’s throne of grace.”

I would agree with the author’s comments on this one. “God is in control” is certainly true. But people in the middle of suffering won’t be comforted by it. This truth won’t sink in until much later. As so often the case, timing is everything.

Much of the pain and suffering we experience is because we live in a fallen world outside the Garden. We tend to forget that.

Moving on, Tim Pyles shares the next phrase not to say to hurting people:

God has a plan

“Yes, He indeed does, but the death of their child was not a part of it.”

To this I would add, remarks like “God has a plan” often comes off as our effort to defend God and what he does in the affairs of mankind. God doesn’t need us to defend him. “God has a plan” is prone to distance us from hurting people.

Finally, the last of the “What Not to Say” is:

One day you’ll understand why; one day you’ll know the reason

“No, they won’t.”

The author of this blog post does not leave us hanging with what not to say. Here is what he says are helpful things we can and should say or do:

“If this is a person who you know and love, tell them how much they mean to you and how much your heart aches with them and for them.  Tell them how much you loved their child, and how much you miss them.  Tell them, ‘I can’t imagine the pain, the hurt, the sense of loss, and the anger that you are feeling’ …

“Grief is a journey and a process, not an event.  Patiently love them and consistently demonstrate the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When the time is right, assure them that God loves them, too.  Remind them that they can speak openly and honestly to God about what they are feeling.

“Hopefully, in time, they will come to see how God can bring light even out of the darkest of nights, and out of our brokenness, He can bring blessing.  He is not the Cause, but rather the Redeemer of our suffering.”

So what does all this mean for all of us?

I like how the author concludes his remarks:

“Our ‘presence’ and our actions of kindness and compassion should always precede our words, and completely substitute for them if necessary.  Show compassion, extend kindness, demonstrate humility, deal with them gently, and be patient with them (Colossians 3:12).

“The emotions of those who have suffered soul-jarring and faith-shaking losses are very real and extremely raw.  What they feel is what they feel.  Their pain is deep.  Their grief is intense.  To attempt to get them to deny their emotions, to suppress their feelings, or to feel guilty about their anger will be completely unhelpful and counterproductive and will almost certainly ensure that you will not be welcomed to walk beside them throughout their long journey of grief.”

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

Be careful of what not to say when bad things happen to good people.

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 think about what phrases to avoid in trying to be helpful to the hurting people in your life. And to instead to live out Colossians 3:12, where the Apostle Paul says, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

For when you do, you will find the joy God intends for you in your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

That’s it for today. Until we connect again next time, spread a little relational sunshine to those around you. Goodbye for now.

Related resources you may want to check out

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

Tim Pyles blog post, “Everything Happens for a Reason, Right?”

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