A popular alternative rock band in the 80's & 90's was R.E.M. and in 1993 they released as a single, the song, "Everybody Hurts," which at the time really spoke to me. I was 13 and dealing with more than most girls my age should have even known about. I couldn't relate to my peers because the rights of passage many of them experienced seemed trivial in comparison with the tough realities in my life. I was hurting and I felt alone. Truth states I was not alone, there is a world full of people who are hurting and I felt the song by R.E.M. not only spoke to that reality but encouraged people to hang on and to do it together.
Over the past year I have watched on as people around me have had their lives rocked and what has most shocked me has been the responses to their hardship that has been expressed. I will admit that I don't always know how to come along someone and sometimes I will say the wrong thing, so I know it happens, but what I am encountering more and more is cruel words and spiritual responses that just aren't Biblically accurate! When we hurt we need the people around us to love on us and to be there. Maybe you've tried to help and been pushed away and that can also happen as a lot people when faced with hardship go into hibernation mode. This is also not what I am talking about.
What I am talking about is telling someone:
1. "You must have done something wrong for God to allow this to happen to you."
Can you hear the buzzer telling you, you just got it wrong - eHHHHHHHHH. If you think this is accurate, please read the book of Job. Traditional Jewish thought was and still is in some groups that when you go through something difficult, its because you've done something wrong. That is why Holocaust Survivors are often treated badly. Job was written to counter this. Life happens and isn't necessarily in direct correlation with your actions, choices etc. Job did nothing wrong and his life exploded in his face and God chastised his "friends" who continued to bagger him with his need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Job is also a humbling book because when God responds he definitely shows us that we cannot understand the depths of all He is! The truth is I can't tell anyone why they are experiences disease, pain or loss. There is also the phenomenon of natural consequences and while that is not what we are talking about, no one wants to hear "I told you so." So if you feel the need to say something to that affect, bite your tongue and walk away. We've all made mistakes and if we are experiences the consequences of those, hopefully we will learn.
2. "Your loved one is in a better place"
Sure, this is true, but ask yourself does it need to be said? Probably not! I mean really! Its not unspiritual to be sad when someone is gone. We can know that they are pain free with Jesus and still miss them. We loved them and our life now has this hole. People who lose a parent, child, spouse or other close relative/friend have to begin to live their life again without that person. My grandpa was killed more than 2 years ago but I still can't bring myself to delete his number from my contacts. It is what it is. People need a hug, and practical help: food, laundry, house cleaning, lawn maintenance etc. Its hard to do your everyday life tasks with the hole you feel. Everyone is different, some people respond by throwing themselves into busy life and that's their choice. Its good to be empathetic but its also good to ask, "What do you need right now?" If they don't know, assure them you will be there when they figure it out.
3. "You need to do..."
We all have remedies and solutions to the problems we see in people's lives and social media has tricked us into thinking we have the right to offer our 2 cents. But if someone isn't asking, don't tell them your 10 step way to make it all better. You can say you've done some research and if they are ever interested to let you know, but wait for them to ask. Most of us have internet access. We know how to google a disease or look up the harmful affects of foods, environment etc. The information itself is good, but can be overwhelming or feel condescending.
4. "God does not give us more than we can bear."
If you want to say this to someone just go ahead and punch them in the face. First of all, this scripture is often taken out of context because I Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation and most of the difficult life we encounter has nothing to do with temptation unless as stated earlier we are talking about experiencing the natural consequences of our bonehead choices, and that is not what we are talking about here. God is a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1) and is always with us (Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Romans 8:38-39), when we say, "God does not give us more than we can bear" to someone experiencing the cruel realities of life it makes God out to be some terrorist torturing us in some effort to get us to talk and that is not God. He love us and tells us that this life isn't easy (John 16:33) but in the end God has overcome it all. Most of us need more support and less judgment. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything and when someone is suffering, they need words that bring life and help encourage them to fight on, not words that embitter than toward God and break down their strength. Its hard to know what to say to people especially when we have no experience walking in their shoes so pray, and if you have no idea what to say, just say that and reassure you are there to walk the journey.
5. "If you had more faith..."
I do believe our words can make or break our journey and we can speak truth into our lives, but bad things happen even with faith. Isaiah 55 tells us that God's ways and thoughts are higher than our own. There are moments when faith can change our reality but to assume or communicate that the travesty they face is due to a lack of faith puts unnecessary blame in their lives and does nothing to support our friend or family member. Sometimes the answer we get from God is no or maybe God has purposes beyond our scope. We have no idea what he sees and maybe we will see it play out before us and maybe we won't, but if we trust a good, loving God than we can know no matter what He is at work.
I've shared before that when I was a pre-teen and early teen, my mom was married to a man with a lot of heartache and pain in his heart and the experiences he walked through in his life led him to alcoholism and abuse. In the years he was married to my mom, our lives were torn apart and he almost killed my mom. Fast-forward to several years ago when he was dying. I recognized that the worst years of my life were the best of his. I realized that he knew Jesus and would be in heaven because of the time with us through which he got to know God. In retrospect I drew the conclusion that it was worth it. I wanted him in heaven and was willing to accept what I'd lived through if it meant his soul being saved. It was an epiphany like none other I have ever experienced. Sure I wasn't going through it at the moment that I accepted the beauty of the end result, but that's the point. During those early years suffering because of someone else's choices, I wondered if God really loved me, but when God saw me he didn't just see the hurting 7th grader, he also simultaneously saw the woman in adulthood accepting the weight of those years and in his grace he allowed those experiences.
This life is temporary. Earth is not our home and God's purposes far exceed what is in our lap at the moment, but I learned to accept the hardship I experienced through walking with God not because someone came to me in those challenging years and told me, "I needed more faith" or even the face punch of number 4 that "God wouldn't give me more than I could bear." God was at work in and through it all and I am learning (slowly I may add) to trust him with it all of it(Hebrews 6) as the anchor for my soul. Hebrews 11 tells us that, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So even in the darkest moment we can still hope because it isn't done until God makes the call and the trumpet sounds and we meet him in the air.
God made each of us differently and their is real beauty in that, but if we fail to see the differences in others with a equal respect then we miss a true gift. What is hard for me might not be hard for you, I can't use myself as a gauge for someone else's emotions. We experience life differently and while that doesn't change the moral code outlined in the Bible, it does mean that we may see it from another perspective and its when we come together that the whole picture can take place. Lets be the body we were made to be and stand together through the hurts. Because as R.E.M sang so poignantly, "Everybody Hurts."