What NOT to Say to Someone in Pain

Several years ago at a physical therapy appointment I was getting some kinks worked out of my back. As the therapist torqued my left leg into a pretzel, she told me about a friend who recently got news about a life threatening medical condition. As my therapist shared, she felt unsure about what to say to her friend facing such sadness. Even though I’ve been in ministry over 40 years, the right thing to say to a person in pain still eludes me. What should we say to someone like her friend? Or better yet, what should we not say?

Since our youngest was diagnosed with a brain tumor over 30 years ago (and is now doing well), what people have said to us through the years has run the gamut from perfect to really bad. Most people really want to encourage when we hurt, but often they say exactly what you don’t need to hear.

Here’s a few statements to NEVER say to someone in pain, no matter what kind of pain.

  • Everything will be all right. God’s in control. (Yes, God is control, but everything may not turn out all right.)
  • Just have more faith and you will be fine. (Platitude.)
  • God told me that you’d be healed/your problem will go away. (Why did he tell you and not me?)
  • Could there possibly be some sin in your life? (Sounds like one of Job’s friends.)
  • My (aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.) faced the same thing and they were healed. (I’m not your aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.)
  • Well, I’m facing such and such…and then this person prattles on and on about himself or herself, seemingly oblivious to our pain. (You really didn’t hear me, did you?)
  • Just let us know what we can do. (Often this really means nothing or else they would have gotten specific on the spot.)

Words carry great power. The book of Proverbs tells us they have the power of life or death and that a well-placed word is very valuable. This verse is a great one.

Prov. 25.11 The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.

I’d love to hear words that you’ve heard or said that were like gold in times of pain.

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3 thoughts on “What NOT to Say to Someone in Pain”

  1. I wonder if there is ever anything to be said that will matter one way or the other. Like I’ve often been taught (regarding funeral sermons, for instance), it is our presence and tone that do more than anything else. Our words will not really cut into the depth of their pain and often, as you point out so well, do more harm than good – especially if we try too hard. The best we can do is be present, call often, and make sure they know we’re present and reachable.

  2. I concur, Mike. This is the best we can do, and even when the person does not reach out to you, do not be offended or take it personally. the best thing someone has done for me in my time of pain is actually empathise wholeheartedly with body language as well as words. then you know they ‘get it’.

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