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Call to Care: Words That Hurt, Not Heal (Part 2)

December 1, 2014

In today’s post, Concordia Chaplain Rev. Roger Nuerge revisits Dr. Kenneth Haugk’s book on Christian Caregiving, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart,” in part two of “Words That Hurt, Not Heal,” part 14 of the “Call to Care” series.

In the chapter titled “Words That Hurt, Not Heal,” Dr. Haugk shares the findings of his research among care receivers, revealing that some of the words people often say to them intending to be helpful, really hurt instead. Perhaps we have said them. Perhaps they have been said to us. In part one of this series, the hurtful words we looked at were:

  • "I know how you feel"
  • "It's for the best"
  • "Keep a stiff upper lip"
  • "At least..."

This time we will look at the last three.

"You Should/Shouldn't..."

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to make judgments on how someone should feel in difficult times.  People have probably told you how you should feel when you were struggling too. The problem is that shoulds and shouldn'ts communicate what another person should do or not do, or feel or not feel. They are not a pleasant experience and generally shut down communication.

Here are some examples of ways should is expressed:

  • A few weeks after the death of a son: "You need to get over it and get on with life."
  • To a woman going through a divorce: "You ought to have left long ago! Don't let this ruin your life."

Phrases like you ought to, you need to, and you can't all communicate the same message. Sometimes should is right, but the point is that the suffering person isn't ready to hear it yet, so it's better not to say it. These phrases are resented because people feel that they are supposed to do what others want them to do rather than grieve in their own way.

"God doesn't give you any more than you can handle."

Where in the Bible does it say that? Nowhere. This statement is often quoted as a biblical truth loosely based on 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

Many suffering people who hear "God doesn't give you any more than you can handle" will accept it as having a ring of truth based on Holy Scripture because it sounds like 1 Corinthians 10:13, but that is a mistranslation and a misinterpretation of that passage. The passage is talking about temptation, not suffering and pain.

"God doesn't give you any more than you can handle" has another problem. It's the "God gives you" part. 1 Corinthians doesn't say that God tempts people or that he gives people pain or suffering. So why add to people's suffering by saying that God causes it?

“It's God's will”

This is one of the most carelessly used religious phrases used to comfort a suffering person, and according to Dr. Haugk's research, 93 percent of care receivers reacted strongly and negatively to it when it was spoken to them in their suffering. One woman said, "It seemed like my pain was not valued in God's overall scheme of things, that it was just minor or trivial to Him."

This phrase implies that:

  • The hurting person has no right to feel the way they are feeling
  • They wouldn't hurt as much if they saw that this was God's plan for them
  • The person saying it doesn't feel comfortable with people in pain and suffering.

Rarely is a "will-of-God" explanation to suffering well received. It's easier to view suffering as part of God's will when you are not the one suffering. It might seem that seeing suffering "from God's perspective" should help the suffering person, but who of us can see any situation wholly from God's perspective?

When bad things happen to people, they don't need platitudes or nice sounding empty religious slogans. They need to be able to lean on each other and support one another.  

For more information on the senior care services offered at Concordia, message us through the Contact section of our website or call 724-352-1571.

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