Have you ever experienced a devastating loss, been hurt beyond words, or been in deep emotional or physical pain, and some well meaning person comes along and gives you a one liner like “All things work together for good” or “It could be worse.”
You probably felt you were punched in the stomach---again. Cliché’s are many people’s go to when they don’t really know what else to say or do to provide you with comfort.
Some cliché’s may carry a measure of truth, but others couldn’t be farther from the truth. While they’re supposed to help us find strength in the difficult situations of life, cliché’s can often leave us feeling empty, frustrated and guilty.
Here are a few you should use with caution:
Time heals all sorrows
I know this one isn’t true because time hasn’t healed mine. Sure, our pain may not be as intense, but no amount of time can heal a heart devastated by the loss of something or someone precious. What time does do is provide an opportunity for growth and healing. Once we get there we can begin thinking about how to re-invest our hearts into life again.
You have to be strong
No you don’t. This one carries with it a belief that many of us have learned from our family of origin. If you were told it wasn’t ok to express emotion, or if you grew up in a home where you were ridiculed for showing weakness, it’s easy to see how you could buy into this cliché. News flash: it’s ok to be a hot mess when you’ve experienced loss. It’s normal.
Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad
That may be true, but the normal response to loss is sadness---end of story.
All things work together for good
This is a wonderful Biblical truth, but please be careful when you throw it out there. When someone’s heart is hemorrhaging, that’s probably not what he or she needs to hear on the front end of things.
Most people want to be of comfort when someone is hurting, they may just not know how. Instead of using a cliché, consider this:
When someone has experienced a loss, there really isn’t much another person can do to relieve their pain. What the wounded person needs is to express their pain to someone who cares. By being an attuned compassionate presence, you can help a person process their grief by simply being there.
When people are hurting, a gentle caring touch can mean the world. Don’t be afraid to give a hug, hold a hand or even cry with someone.
Empathy means putting yourself in another person’s shoes. It’s feeling their pain. Don’t tell someone you know exactly how they feel--- you don’t. You may have good intentions, but their pain is unique to their situation.
Let people who are hurting know you’re praying for them. Tell them often. Don’t be too quick to throw out Bible verses that will make them feel worse about where they are in the grief process. Give others the space to recover in their own time.
When we see someone who is hurting we want to help. That’s why we throw out the cliché’s in the first place. Instead, ask if there is any tangible way we can help. Bring meals, run errands, babysit, or do laundry. Find the need and fill it.
We will all come in contact with people who are hurting and need our love and support. Remember, the key to helping isn’t to fix things; it’s to be an attuned compassionate presence.