What Not to Say When Someone is in Pain
- Where’s your faith? – Whether or not someone is afflicted with pain or suffering is not an accurate measurement of their faith or lack of faith. Jesus healed many who did not declare their faith.
- Praise God for your suffering - It may sound biblical, but it isn’t. Let us never rise up with judgments or spiritualise suffering. Keep Romans 5:3 in perspective. It says that we should “Rejoice in the trials you are facing...” That’s in the trials, not for the trials. We are encouraged to celebrate the opportunity for growth, find a blessing despite our circumstances but not celebrate the pain or suffering.
- Feel privileged as you are chosen - Some people want us to see adversity like a set of hurdles to be jumped over on the way to the Super Christian’s winners circle. Trouble is, we may find ourselves wishing that God thought much less of us, if only we could have our pre-pain life back – i.e. if God loved my child less, then they would still be with me. We have all heard the phrase ‘God will not give you more than you can bear’, but this is regarding temptation and us falling into sin; not pain.
- It is God’s will - Never once did Jesus pronounce that it was His Father’s will that people suffered, in fact Jesus spent his entire ministry fighting disease, pain, poverty and injustice. We have no right to stand in front of someone who is in pain and pronounce that their pain is the will of God.
- Listen up, God’s speaking to you - Pain, sickness and suffering happen to all people; it does not discriminate. Pain and hurts are stark reminders that our planet is ‘upside down’ and needs resuscitation. Pain is a reminder of our fragility as humans, a reminder that we need intervention and saving. Pain is not necessarily God speaking to us. Though God doesn't cause pain, he is always seeking opportunities to draw us closer to his heartbeat and when we are in pain sometimes our ears are a little bit more open. C. S. Lewis wrote in his book “Mere Christianity” that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“The Be Attitudes”1 When People are in Pain
We are not called to be God’s SWAT team when it comes to pain; elite, highly trained operatives without emotion, just there to get the job done. We are called to be fellow sojourners who journey alongside those who are suffering, using all our senses and spiritual discernment to carry out such a holy act of ministry.
- Be prepared - We need to prepare ourselves spiritually. When we are spiritually full, we have something to give. We can also go prepared to share a short encouraging story, song, quote or verse that has meant something to us. We need to share it in a relational way such as why it means something to us personally. Let us not get caught just sharing cheery verses about brooks running over and mountains clapping their hands; to be an encourager is to be real. We should aim to be a comfort but not suffocate others with fake cheeriness.
- Be 100% present for the person - We don’t want to get caught up pouring out our own woes even if the person in pain asks ‘how are you?’ We also need to remember that we don’t know how they feel because we are not them and are not living their situation.
- Be silent. Be still - Sit and listen. When we listen without judging, it allows people to feel safe enough to share. Most people know we can’t fix their problem; they just need someone they can trust with their deep thoughts. We have two ears and one mouth, they should be used in that ratio. Silence is OK. “Sometimes there are no words, I’m not going to try and put words to this. I’m going to just sit with you in the grief and weep with you.” – Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian singer and songwriter, interviewed on Larry King Live after losing his daughter in a terrible accident.
- Be human - Authentic spirituality is being able to be real and admit that sometimes we don’t have all the answers and we have doubts and fears too.
- Be all ears, ask about what to pray for - Instead of guessing what the person in pain wants, ask them how they’d like us to pray for them.
- Be Practical - Don’t just offer “If you need anything, give me a call.” People in pain don’t always know what they need or want and they probably don’t have the energy to chop a salad let alone initiate a phone call. Instead, find something that needs doing or that will bless them and do it. Mow the lawn, pick the kids up from school, wash the dirty dishes in the sink, vacuum their house or wash their car. Can you cut hair? Massage their feet? Pick up some groceries? Actions can say what words cannot and sometimes are more powerful. “Heaven [is] Mission Central. God is not sitting back while the centuries tick by, merely listening to angel choirs. Instead He is focused on dispatching miracle-missions on earth. Sometimes He sends angels. But for face-to-face work in the physical realm, God looks for people who will say yes. - Bruce. Wilkinson, “You Were Born for This”
Based on Katie Maxwell’s book “Bedside Manners, a Practical Guide to Visiting the Ill.”