One of the Worst Things to Say to a Believer Who is Hurting-Repost

I want to follow up on my two-part series on Polly Positive to bring you this article I wrote many years ago for my Art of Eloquence communication blog. I was talking about how we communicate with those who are struggling with chronic illness actually affects them, even if the person’s intentions are good. While Polly’s intentions are to bring the person back to Jesus, the timing isn’t right and the message that comes across is quite damaging and, in fact, not biblical:

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” -Proverbs 16:24

Sad

I’ve seen it so many times. A sister in the Lord opens up to share a struggle she is going through in the hopes that the fellowship will bring strength to a weary heart. Instead of support, sympathy or understanding, she receives condemnation by well-meaning and faith-filled believers. In place of words of peace and comfort, they rebuke the poor sinner for not having enough faith. They remind her of the mustard seed, how faith can move mountains and how big God is, but what does that do to her suffering? Does it relieve her suffering or does it, in fact, increase it and place the blame squarely on her?

This is actually one of the worst things you can communicate to a believer who is hurting. Why? Because what you’re saying is:

1. Your suffering is your fault

By telling a believer that she doesn’t have enough faith in God, you are telling her that she wouldn’t be suffering if she only had more faith. Since she either doesn’t believe she has little faith or doesn’t see how she can have more, she feels you are telling her that she is ONLY suffering because of her own lack of faith. Essentially, this belittles her suffering. After all, people don’t feel as sorry for those who cause their own suffering as we do for those who are suffering through no fault of their own.

2. You wouldn’t suffer if you only had more faith

After being told she has caused her own suffering through unbelief, the only option given her is more belief. This is sort of like telling someone “Be happy!” Have you ever been upset and been faced with a situation in which you had to go out and put on your happy face? It was difficult, wasn’t it? Magnify that tenfold and think how difficult it would be to put on your happy face after having lost a loved one to cancer or after being faced with financial ruin. Can they do it? I’m sure some could, but what does it require? It usually requires a time of mourning, a time of rebuilding after a period of support and strength that comes from fellowship. Telling someone to have faith after you just told them they didn’t have any, isn’t helpful and it can be a huge detriment to their ability to bounce back after a devastating event.

3. Your suffering is not going to stop until you have more faith

This poor hurting soul who was reaching out for comfort and strength is now frustrated because she is being told that, no matter how the struggle began, it is now her fault, the only cure is more belief and she cannot find an ounce more in her suffering so it’s never going to end. She is now convinced her suffering will go on indefinitely! Struggles are difficult enough when we believe they are somewhat temporary, but when we see no end in sight, struggles take on new depths of sorrow.

We can all build our faith. Even the most faith-filled Christian can become even stronger in the Lord, but this growing in faith usually comes after a period of mourning the loss at the root of the struggle and a period of gathering strength from family, friends and the Lord.

Telling someone their suffering comes from their unbelief is unbiblical. Here are just three examples from scripture:

1. If all suffering comes from not having enough faith, why was Paul suffering?

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” -2 Corinthians 12:7

2. If all suffering can be reversed by having more faith, why wasn’t Paul healed?

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” -2 Corinthians 12:8

3. If Christians are not supposed to discuss their feelings when they are suffering, how can you explain Job?

“Even to day is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning.” –Job 23:2

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” –Job 42:10

Telling a person who is suffering, especially when the suffering is new, that they simply need more faith is not only unhelpful, but it can frustrate and depress the person even further. This is where more communication skill is needed. Be careful at this vulnerable time in this believer’s life that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29

Please share your comments, thoughts, and experiences here.  I’d love to hear from you.

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Paul vs Job Part 9: How Did Paul Find Joy?

This is the last part in my series Paul vs Job.  Just to recap, in this series, I’ve shared about the reason I began looking into this topic of Paul vs Job-about how I could never find a devotional that went beyond the fact that we should be joyous and have faith and that we’d be healed in Heaven.  I also shared about the differences between Job and Paul.  I shared the lessons we can learn from Job and the lessons we can learn from Paul.  I talked about how there are differences between struggling through short term trials and ones that are long term. Next I talked about what the Bible says about suffering and what the Bible says about joy in suffering.  Then, I talked about the needs of the suffering and things I feel it’s important to keep in mind.

I’ve known for years that the Bible, and Paul specifically, tells us to have joy even in the midst of trials, but whenever I’d look for how to do that, all devotionals and articles came up short.  They always told me what to do, but never HOW I could do that.  There were times when I was in so much physical pain or emotional turmoil that I couldn’t even envision how that could be accomplished.  And there were times when I have been easily able to move to joy from fear and pain because of all I’d seen in my life and all God had done for me.  Yet, I still didn’t understand how Paul was able to have the joy he apparently had even in the midst of pain, enormous struggle, and persecution.

Frankly, I’d searched so long and so hard, I never thought I’d understand.  I spoke to pastors and faith-filled friends who all told me to write about this, but I never felt qualified to do so…until recently.  A friend told me to share what I HAD discovered even if it didn’t lead to how Paul was able to have such joy.  So I embarked on this series.  While, I prayed it would be a blessing to those in pain, struggling with trials of various kinds, I fully expected to come to this point in the series and tell you I had no idea how Paul was able to do this.

Then a miracle happened.  I was reading over some articles and devotionals preparing for this blog post when it hit me that there wasn’t a single thing Paul did that helped him to feel joy.  It wasn’t what he did; it was who he was.  I believe there are nine things Paul was, or tried hard to be, that allowed him to live with joy:

1) An expectation and an acceptance that life wasn’t going to be easy.
Back in the olden days, I think there was an expectation and an acceptance that life was not a peaceful progression of years. With the advancement of medical science and technology, we have now come to expect that these things will make our lives easier.  But more than this, we’ve come to the point where we do not accept life’s little struggles–let alone the big ones.  As a result, it’s harder for people to deal with those struggles when they arise.  The Bible tells us we will face trials of various kinds.  Paul knew this.  We should too.

2) A determination, a commitment, and a resilience.
Paul felt a strong calling on his life from the Lord to do certain things.  That gives a person a determination and a commitment to that end.  Determination and commitment leads to a resilience.  We need to adopt those characteristics in our own lives to get us through the rough patches.  Even if you look at this in a secular situation, have you ever heard of someone who accomplished great things in their lives, had great success, without having to struggle?  No, you didn’t.

3) A constant reminder of how much Christ endured for us.
Paul was able to endure, I feel, because he was always aware of how much more Christ had endured for us.  Whatever we have gone through, though devastating, was nothing compared to all Christ had lived through for our sake.  I know that He was more than man and we are merely mortal, but having this in mind can help us to move past many things.

4) An understanding that while he may be in chains, his ministry was not.
Paul understood that while he had physical limitations of health or imprisonment, his ministry wasn’t bound.  He was able to lead others to Christ through others, through his letters to the churches, etc.  My ministry is not reliant upon my physical prowess (thankfully!) or my physical location (thanks to the internet).  While my body may be limited, my ministry is not if I only think a bit outside the box.  What about yours?

5) A heart to find the blessings due to his pain.
Paul’s heart was for others and he saw the blessings in those he discipled.  He saw the blessings that God helped him to accomplish.  He saw the beauty in God’s creations.  We can do the same.  If we look for the blessings in spite of (and sometimes BECAUSE of) our pain, we will have an easier time moving forward past the hardships.

6) A satisfaction with who he was if not how he was.
I think Paul was never satisfied with where he was or what he’d been able to do, but he was satisfied with who he was in Christ.  We may not be satisfied with where we are (in struggle/chronic illness), but we may be satisfied with who we are in Christ because we are His and we are doing our best to fulfill our missions here on earth.  That right there goes a long way to keeping us on track and fulfilled which makes trials less likely to derail our spirit.

7) A thankful heart for what he had been able to accomplish.
Paul had a thankful heart for all God did for him, a sinner, and for what he was able to accomplish in Christ. He was humble enough to know it was God’s victories and that, I think, made him thankful to be part of something bigger and more important than himself. Thankfulness makes us more positive about our future. Thankfulness can help us see outside ourselves and current difficulties toward something larger and more important for us to accomplish. Even if you are bedridden, there are ways the Lord can use you!  What do you think they are? How can you be thankful to God for things in your life?

8) A flexibility to bypass roadblocks.
Part of number four up there requires flexibility.  When life put up roadblocks for Paul, he found ways around them in order to further his ministry.  Life has thrown roadblocks in your way too.  How can you get around them?  I know someone who is in a lot of pain and takes to her bed often for days, but she has a ministry online that gives her purpose.  Instead of thinking she can’t be of any use, she found a way around her roadblocks to fulfill her ministry.  How can you?

9) A heart to seek God for strength and direction.
Paul had a heart to seek after God. He found strength in Him and he asked for direction.  We can too.  We can ask God to reveal our purpose, to give us strength, to direct our steps, to fulfill our calling, to get through our struggles, and to find our joy! Will you?

I wish I could say I could wave a magic wand or you could take a pill and just suddenly experience joy amidst the difficult and sometimes horrific trials.  There is no easy way to find joy.  Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe we need to struggle in order to create something beautiful in this life. Maybe it’s the struggle that defines us and pushes us mere humans to do something incredible with God’s help.  Maybe the only real peace we will find is on the other side, in heaven…

I may not have all the answers to how Paul was able to find the joy in the midst of such trial. I may know nothing about what it will mean for you, but I do pray this post has been a starting point, food for thought, that will lead you to become the person you need to be in order to find your joy.

 

 

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Paul vs Job Part 8: Keep This in Mind

I only have two more parts to this series and today’s is about things we, who are going through long term, chronic, and lifetime trials need to keep in mind in order to be able to find the joy inside the struggles.  This week’s post is vital if you’ve never sat down to think of them before and even if you have. Stay with me.

 

  1. You’ll have good days and bad days.  Dealing with issues like these, unfortunately, isn’t a straight upward trajectory.  You’ll have good days and bad days. If you don’t expect that, you’ll be disappointed when the bad days come. If you do expect that, you can minimize the effects of the bad days and get more joy out of the good days.
  2. Watch for dangerous signs. Depression and suicide is an increased risk for those in one or more long-term chronic issues. Get help if you feel overwhelmed and depressed.  We are only human and things can get to us after a long while of dealing with life’s trials. Don’t suffer needlessly.  It happened to me a while back, but thankfully I was able to pull myself out after a short time.
  3. Make time for and pick your battles with your spouse. The divorce rate among those in trial is also much higher. Whether your struggle is financial or health-related, these things can make for grumpy spouses and that can affect a marriage.  Take time to work through things together before it becomes a pattern or too big a problem for you two to face together without help. If it’s already gotten to that point, consider getting some marriage counseling.
  4. Keep in mind that things are not as simplistic as others would have you believe. Most issues are much more complex than the platitudes and pat answers would suggest and they won’t help. Life isn’t all packaged up neatly in a perfect box.  Life’s messy and life in trial is even messier still.  And that’s ok. Knowing this allows you to dig further to find your answers instead of feeling as if there is something wrong with you because someone thinks you should just “get over it.”

I would also like to take this opportunity to share some tips for finding more joy in the midst of struggle and suffering.

  1. CDs of church sermons you’ve not been able to attend for health reasons
  2. Online church sermons if you can’t make it to church one week or more
  3. Upliftng praise and worship music or music that makes you happy from when you were a child or when you were doing well.
  4. Watching humorous tv shows or funny videos
  5. Our parent company Grape Stuff has a set of four CDs that have serene instrumental music on them that is designed to reduce anxiety and to calm.  It’s called the Serenity Package.  

Next week, I’ll deal with what I find in Paul’s writing that leads me to believe how he was able to find joy in all that was his trials. See you then.

 

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Paul vs Job Series Begins

Introduction: Paul vs Job

You’ve probably had someone reply to your plea for support with a platitude or a quote from Job that went something like, “This too shall pass.”  When you’re trial has lasted over seven years or you’ve been living with an incurable illness for over 30 or 40 years, it doesn’t help to hear that Job was blessed with even more than he had before Satan was allowed to take his wealth, health, and loved ones away.  How long was Job’s suffering?  It wasn’t a lifetime, but yours might be.  I know mine has been.

It never gave me peace to hear about how Job’s health and wealth and family were restored to him.  I mean, I was happy for him. I’m happy for all who have suffered and been blessed, but it never helped me to know that OTHERS’ trials had ended or that they were short-lived. Just like it never satisfied me financially to know that someone else had built a million dollar business while I was struggling to pay rent or find quarters in the First National Couch with which to go food shopping.  I was happy for them, but it didn’t help me.

Then one day I realized that it was because I wasn’t a Job. I was a Paul.  Many of us are Pauls.  Many of us struggle with things for a lifetime or at least a long time.  Some of us had learned to find joy despite the trials, but others hadn’t.  I wondered what it was about Paul that allowed him to find joy in the words, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

I decided to look for a study of just how Paul found the joy he spoke of in the midst of so much turmoil.  I searched for a devotional about the difference between Job’s trials and Paul’s.  I couldn’t find one.  Several of my friends suggested that I write one.  Well, I didn’t feel qualified to do such a thing.  So for years I just kept looking.

Then one day, two church friends found me at a book sale looking for just such a book.  When I explained what I was looking for, they both suggested that I write one.  Again, I told them I didn’t feel qualified to undertake such a task, but they both replied that many people didn’t feel qualified and that God qualifies those whom he calls.   Well, I still don’t feel I have enough biblical knowledge to undertake such a monumental assignment, but I do feel God calling me to write about it.

So I will be writing a blog article series on the differences between Paul and Job. I will be sharing my research, my findings, and my own experiences finding joy in the dark places.  I really have no idea where this is going, but I do feel the Lord leading me to follow this path to wherever it takes me.

I invite you to share your comments and experiences along the way and I hope it blesses each of my readers.

 

 

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Two Things We All Need When in Struggle

There are two very important things we all need when we are in crisis.  They are vital, but they are not at all common.  These two things are needed even more so when in trial and God says no. Those two things are prayer and practical advice.

When we struggle, when we are in trial, when life seems bleak and we are not sure how we are going to handle something that has been dropped in our lap or slapped across our face (as it sometimes feels), the first thing we need is prayer.  We need to petition the Father for comfort, for strength, and for help.  That prayer usually comes from us…the person(s) in need of the help.  But when that prayer comes from a friend or group of friends, it means so much more.

Prayer is a powerful thing. And corporate prayer is even more powerful. It’s what helped me give birth to my son through a series of miracles that ended with an incredibly healthy kid who rarely gets a cold.  It’s what helped my doctors find pre-cancer cells they never would have found until it was too late as most women with Fallopian tube cancer have experienced before their untimely death. It’s what delivered my daughter from heart issues to be healed inside of a month where the doctors expected either a death sentence (if she were born with it) or years of recuperation at best if it were the result of a virus…NOT ONE MONTH!

Praying for someone is amazing, but praying WITH someone can lift someone’s spirits and ease their burden so much in that few minutes it takes to come together in prayer.  Just knowing someone is willing not only to say they’ll pray, and pray in private, but to pray in their presence is an amazing boost to a weary soul.

Prayer is amazing, but often God uses prayers to bring about the practical things that are needed for His struggling children THROUGH the actions of others.  If someone is in need of $100 to be able to meet his rent and someone offers him that $100 as a gift or even as a  loan, that is an answered prayer.  If you can be the answer to prayer for someone, that is truly an amazing feeling.  And it doesn’t always take money.  Sometimes it can take the form of a meal, a shoulder to cry on, a phone call to a friend who may have a job opening, a gift of time or service, or a discount on a product or service desperately needed.

James 2:15-16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” 

Who can you pray for today? Who can you pray WITH today?  How can you be an answered prayer for someone you know who is hurting today?

 

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