The Encouragement Faux Pas of “It Could Be Worse”, by David Furman
SEPTEMBER 24, 2016
We all have hurting people in our lives. Whether you have a friend with a disability, a depressed family member, a child in pain, or a friend who has lost a loved one. It's just like R.E.M. famously sang, “Everybody hurts sometimes.”
This means we’re all in the ministry of loving those who hurt. There are many helpful things we can do for those in pain, but though it is unintentional, sometimes our efforts cause more harm than good. One of these ways we think we’re sharing a word of encouragement is by playing the comparison game.
This Never Makes Someone Feel Better
Unless you’re Jesus, it almost never helps to tell someone that you know exactly what he or she is going through. If you’ve gone through the horrendous thing your friend or family member is going through, then surely they know it. One way we do this is to point out other people who have it worse than your friend. We might think we’re helping when we tell someone who has a hurt arm, “Well, at least you still have an arm. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have any arms. Praise God for the arms you have.” But how is that supposed to make the person feel? Not better, that’s for sure.
Don’t start your “encouragement” by saying,
- • “You could have it a whole lot worse right now…” or
- • “Chin up, it’s not as bad as that time when I . . .” or
- • “This reminds me of the day when I . . .”
When you do this, you minimize another person’s suffering. You’re making your suffering friend feel like his pain is “no big deal.” To people in pain—whatever their issue is—it’s a big deal. And what’s worse, you’re also minimizing the help and grace of Jesus to meet them in their particular suffering.
It’s also best to not start any sentence with the words “at least.’ “
- • “At least she’s in heaven now.”
- • “At least you have three other children.”
- • “At least your mind is still strong.”
- • “At least you have a home.”
A Better Way
A better way forward is to say, “I love you” and “I am so sorry.” And leave it at that. Maybe just stop working so hard to come up with the “right” thing to say and just be there with them in their pain.
Instead of comparing your friend to someone you know, you might say, “I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand how you’re feeling.” How is your pain this week? How’s your heart today? And listen.
If you find it difficult to sympathize, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1 that we can comfort someone not because we can relate to them, but because Christ can relate to us. Because Jesus has comforted us, we can now go forth and comfort others through the strength and comfort he provides.
Content taken from Being There by Dave Furman, ©2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.