Are you ever unsure about what to say to someone who is grieving or in a crisis? The book, Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart, by Dr. Kenneth Haugk, offers good advice. The title comes from Proverbs 25:20: “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” Haugk says this proverb “speaks about the false cheeriness of caregivers who gloss over the sufferer’s pain. Though it might seem you could lighten a heavy heart by ‘singing songs’ to it, by uttering lighthearted words, the chances are great that you’ll only make things worse.”
In his book, Haugk lists some comments his research found to be universally hurtful to those on the receiving end:
- “I know how you feel.” No you don’t. Instead, try asking, “How are you feeling?”
- “It’s for the best.” That may be true, but let the hurting person arrive at that conclusion independently.
- “Keep a stiff upper lip.” This implies the person needs to get through this situation quickly. Better: “Give yourself time to grieve.”
- “At least _________” (Example: “At least he lived a long life.”) It’s all right to think “at least” thoughts; just don’t say them.
- “You should/shouldn’t ___________” These kinds of comments bring more pain to the sufferer and shut down communication.
- “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” This comment adds to their burden by implying God caused the suffering.
- “It’s God’s will.” Who are you to know the mind of God? Saying that denies someone the right to feel what they feel.
So, what can you do to help someone who is hurting? How about some of these suggestions?
- Write a personal note. Speak from your heart. Focus on the suffering person rather than on yourself.
- Make phone calls with caution. Ask if it’s a good time to talk and keep the calls brief. Listen more than you talk.
- Ask appropriate, open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no answer and then be patient and listen.
- Give (rather than lend) good reading material.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)