Author, Speaker, Professional Patient

Dumb Things Christians Say

Posted by on Apr 3, 2013 in Most Popular Posts, Previously Published Articles, Read Her Blog | 22 comments

Dumb Things Christians Say

We have all said dumb things we wished we could take back. Like, asking a woman her due date only to find out she is not even pregnant.

My biggest foot-in-mouth incident happened when a friend lost her daughter to an awful shooting. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I reread the Palm Beach Post article and then fired off an emotional email that ended with:

“Your daughter is in a better place. She’s singing with the angels in heaven.”
Months later I learned that many well-meaning individuals told her the same thing, which she confessed hurt her. Aching for one more hug and kiss, her heart felt like the better place for her child was in her arms. Her mind knew she would someday spend eternity with her daughter in heaven, but she needed the freedom to act human, to cry out to God like David, Job or Jesus. My thoughtless summation to wrap everything up in a tight Christian bow only caused more tears.

How should we respond?
Let them cry and give them time to mourn. Ask the Lord to put his words in your mouth. My friend was most comforted when people told her they loved her and her daughter, that they were hurting with her, but mostly, that God was weeping too (Romans 8:26).

The best teacher is experience. The second best is learning from someone else’s doltish moment. I hope the following examples save you from unknowingly speaking discouraging words during difficult times.

When my cancer returned, people sent cards with loving prayers. I wept while reading their encouraging words until I read:

dumb things photos“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
That sentence still stings. I translated this as: “You’ll be just fine—buck up!”

I dropped the card like a child, thinking I was not a strong enough Christian because I could not handle my pain. Sadly, each time I saw this person, I plastered on my happy-smile. But the truth was, I felt like someone wrapped their fingers around my heart and squeezed the four chambers together. I have searched the scriptures but cannot find this sentence anywhere in God’s Word. The verse often misinterpreted is 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God says he will not “tempt” you beyond what you can bear. Paul contradicts that trite phrase in 2 Corinthians 1:8. “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

On the contrary, I believe God uses our disheartening circumstances to deepen our dependency on him. If I had the strength to handle my pain, I may not seek the Father for help.

What do you say to someone enduring difficult circumstances?
Silently pray Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard over my mouth, o Lord, keep watch over the door to my lips.”

Then offer prayer, a listening ear or, if you have a bad case of foot-in-mouth like me, zip it up. Instead, mop their floor, bake them a chicken pot pie or offer to babysit. Leave the counseling to the counselors, pastor or radio host who God has specifically gifted. The rest of us are called to be servants, encouragers, and gift-givers.

One of the most precious experiences I encountered after my diagnosis was when a friend showed up at my door with a gently-used juicer. She knew I drastically changed my diet to include more organic fruits and vegetables, so she offered her father’s juicer for as long as I needed. I almost cried. I had prayed for a nice juicer, but the one I was eyeing cost well over two-grand. And right before my eyes God reached out and handed me an older version of that model. Her act of kindness blessed me more than my counter full of cards—and cost her nothing.

Her own father battled lung cancer, so she knew how to comfort me from his experience. She did not stop with the juicer, but gave me cards, a journal, organic teas and she visited me when I ended up in the hospital. She never said much or tried to explain why I was going through my situation. She was just there, smiling, listening, caring and loving me the best she knew how.

“Is there some sin in your life? Maybe that’s why God is putting you through this and your cancer returned?”
I blinked when a man asked me this after church. My non-spiritual side wished that I had Jesus’ all-knowing power, because I would have bent down and written this person’s sin along the breezeway pavement with permanent marker for all the world to read.

Okay, I could never do that.

Sadly, I have not forgotten his words. However, I did cut this guy some slack when I read John 9:2. In it, the disciples asked Jesus a similar question, “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” I love Jesus’ answer: “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins… This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

As believers, our hardships are never in vain. God really does use everything we go through, if we let Him.

Lastly, the comment I heard more than any other was:

“There is a reason you’re going through this trial.”
God uses trials to draw us closer to him, there is no mistaking that. I am just not sure these words bring comfort to anyone who has been diagnosed with heart disease, lost their life savings or been served with divorce papers.

As believers, we need to rethink the coined statements circulating in Christian circles. What would be more beneficial is whispering something simple like, “God, please be with Sue as she is going through this difficult time.”

When my friend’s child died, I wanted to heal her sorrow and say the right thing. That is what my heart desired. We can be the vessel, but his words are the only ones that can bring healing and deliverance from pain (Psalms 34:17).

Think before you speak
Before offering comfort, ask yourself: “Is what I am about to say helpful or potentially hurtful? Am I speaking the truth in love?” Our words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). Be the life-giver. If all else fails and you are at a loss for what to say, a silent hug works wonders. I should know. Those were the best words never spoken.

This article was published in The Good News (April 2013). 

 

22 Comments

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  1. Marilou Johns

    How about the one to the woman who is infertile “If you just had more faith you would be pregnant” OR (even better) “maybe it is God’s plan for you to not have children”? Just thought I would toss my two cents worth in. I know I have probably spoken more hurtful words to those going through trials than were spoken to me during my life, but for some reason we always remember the ones THEY spoke more than the ones WE spoke. Thanks for the reminder Dabney, you are so right. I’ll try to remember “acts of kindness” rather than “words”, good point.

    • dabneyhedegard@gmail.com

      Yes. I’ve heard this one too. : ( Although we can’t know everything to say, it’s always a good practice to think first. Thanks for adding this good reminder.

      Dab 🙂

  2. Kimberly Webb Lague

    Dabney, thank you for writing this post. It is so helpful and important and I appreciate your wisdom in allowing us to rethink some of our “go-to” catch phrases. I hope you will consider doing a follow up to this and including more Dumb Things I say so I can know what needs to be deleted from my vocabulary! 🙂

    • Heidi

      Great idea…please…let us know what other unknowingly stupid things have crossed my lips…

    • dabneyhedegard@gmail.com

      I wanted to add your story but I had a limited word count. I really think that is a story you should share again one day. We all need to hear it.

  3. Theanna

    Great post Dabney. This is very true. I try to be consious of what I say when someone is in need of comfort. We have all been stung by hurtful words. Thank you.

    • dabneyhedegard@gmail.com

      I’m still shocked by the story you told me about your professor said to you. I guess the only way to learn is through experience…or hopefully reading it somewhere. Thanks for sharing.

  4. katie

    my personality is one that urges me to try to say what no one else has said…usually to say something really original and blunt sandwiched in a bunch of love. 🙂 however, when tragedy strikes i am ALWAYS at a loss for something to say. this post is an awesome reminder that when i can’t think of something original to say, just keep my mouth shut and LOVE. (ps: in Kisses from Katie, she talks about how God does give us more than we can handle…because that’s when we can’t get by without Him…love that. please tell me you’ve read that book!)

  5. Lyette

    I think all your warnings are wise! Love this post! Also though, please remember that when tragedy or difficulty strikes, most people are so paralyzed by the fear of saying something wrong that they avoid the person going theough the hardship altogether. That too is very hurtful, I have heard this from people hit with a difficulty, an illness or a tragedy. That’s why I think your advice to give a hug, bring a meal, or serve in some capacity is a wonderful suggestion!

    • dabneyhedegard@gmail.com

      I have to admit, I am guilty of avoiding people for fear of what to say. Thanks for this reminder, Lyette. You are always so kind and give of your time and gifts to others. Amazing.

    • Sorry Sue

      Wow, isn’t that the truth. A coworker mine lost her daughter in a car accident and we had just gone through 2 big tragedies of our own (lost our son and breast cancer in the same year). I knew how hurt I was and I was so afraid that I would say the wrong thing that I didn’t say anything. I did offer my shoulder, but could have done so much more to ease her pain. I’m still kicking myself for my “inability to act.”

  6. Unshakable Hope

    Great post, Dabney!
    As I mentioned in one of my posts, the only good thing about losing my ability to speak 16 years ago is that I haven’t said anything stupid in 16 years:-)
    The two year old son of one of my closest friends drowned in their pool and he told me some of the dumb things well-meaning Christian people said to he and his wife. Why do we feel that we have to have answers to incomprehensible trials?
    This is a case where actions (a hug, a visit, a meal…) usually speak louder than words.
    I am really looking forward to reading your book!
    (The new blog is awesome).

    • dabneyhedegard@gmail.com

      Every time I hear from you, I’m amazed by your story. I’d enjoy having you guest post sometime and maybe share a little bit about what God has brought you through. Your blog is amazing!

      I’m glad you found me on the new site. I was so concerned I lost everyone. 🙂

  7. pamela

    Dabney great post. Do you know why a dog has so many friends, because he wags his tail instead of his tongue. However, if it wasn’t for his master, he wouldn’t be wagging his tail. We humans make mistakes, however, there is atonement.

  8. Paula Mantrozos

    In the book of Job–his friends were of GREAT comfort to him for a week…then they opened their mouths, caused great heartache, and stopped helping!! Good lesson there for me. I love the “set a guard” prayer advice. One of the best gifts is to allow the person to talk about their loss without any judging/assessing/advising words, but just joining them in their sorrow and tears and encouraging them by your helpful presence. Also to remind them to “Run into the Loving Arms of Jesus who will never leave or forsake you…no matter what it looks or feels like…HE’s STILL HERE FOR YOU!”
    Thanks for the challenging reminder and good admonition to do better at this than we’ve done in the past. Love the new site. Love you more! Hugs-P

  9. Natasha

    I can totally relate to this after having gone through years of infertility (I know that pales in comparison to what you’ve been through, though). When we started doing IVF, there were many people who felt the need to point out that we should be waiting for “God’s timing” instead of using medical intervention. I had to explain repeatedly how infertility stems from medical issues just like anything other people go to the doctor for. if they use doctors for anything, then they are not waiting for “God’s timing” either. It was a long, horrible period of getting used to the things people say. It did make me much more sensitive to others though!

  10. Michael Starr

    Just read this article in the “Good News” and found your blog.
    So I’m a little late (story of my life).

    A single mom, at my church, son is dying of brain cancer. I always struggle with the words to say but am there for a hug and an ear to listen – I never felt it was enough. Your words have softened my heart…God’s timing is awesome!

    Thank you for the encouraging words and the reminder to listen first and speak only when needed.

    • dabneyhedegard

      Michael,

      I am so sorry to hear about this single mom. I can’t even imagine what she must be going through. She is mighty blessed that you are reaching out! Most people don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all, or worse–they avoid the person. Hugs and a listening ear are so needed when someone loses a loved-one. You will never know how much you’ve comforted her just by being there.

      Thanks for sharing this with me today. What an encouragement you’ve been.

      Blessings,
      Dabney

  11. Tye

    Dabney,
    Great post and insightful. We’ve all heard those things so many times we assume they are helpful, but don’t realize they are hollow and sometimes even harmful. Paula’s comment about Job’s friends is so accurate. Silence with simple acts of service often ministers best.

    I appreciate that you don’t just call out the dumb things, but offer wise biblical counsel on what we should say.

  12. Tessa

    Thank you for this! The Lord has really been stressing this subject to me, as my best friend is going through the hardest trials of her life. Thank you for being a vessel for His message to me. I am not going to try fixing her problems or giving her truths she already knows. I will simply give her any aid I can. She and her family had to have a huge garage sale (long story involving foreclosure) and I stayed all day to help; when her father found out how long I would be there he shook my hand enthusiastically and kept saying, “You’re a good woman!” Being available was better to him than any words I’d offered.

    Some of those examples sound a lot like what Job’s friends said to him; it reminds me that they didn’t know what was really going on but were merely guessing, so what do I really know about the trials others are going through? The best thing they did for Job was sit with him for days, wordlessly, as he grieved. Maybe I should try that.

  13. cottageonstrawberry

    Thank you for this wonderful post Dabney. Not only do we hurt others; but we ourselves are left with the pain in our hearts of remembering, reliving the pain we have caused when we don’t stop to think, is this something I would like to hear if I were going through the same situation. God bless. Just started reading your book …

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