We’ve all been there, haven’t we? On the receiving end of statements meant to encourage or comfort that instead ended up stinging the soul?
Comments like these after my miscarriage:
Well, at least you have one child; some people don’t even get that!
You should just be happy with what God has given you.
Have you considered adoption?
Maybe there was something wrong with the baby; God was probably saving you from heartache.
Or these words after my drunken brother crashed his Jeep into a tree, killing himself…
Well, with his drinking problem, I guess it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
Now you have an angel looking over you from Heaven.
Wow, they did a good job of sewing him up; he doesn’t look that bad at all.
Whatever trial we face, doesn’t it seem that someone ends up saying something sharp instead of soothing? something unsolicited and absurd? something that really — in retrospect — shouldn’t have been said?
There are countless lists sharing what not to say in difficult circumstances, but how should we respond to people who do say what they shouldn’t have said? And how should we train our children to respond to things that shouldn’t have been said to them?
Here are a few strategies I hope both to master and to pass along:
Mercy is one of those Christian-ese-y little words that believers throw around as if everyone knows what they’re talking about. Except no one does.
The dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” When someone — either intentionally or unintentionally — wounds us with their words, showing leniency or pardon is usually the last thing on our minds.
But God expects us to show compassion even to those who say what they shouldn’t have said. Why? Because He shows us mercy every. single. day. Therefore, we are to “be merciful, even as [our] Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Hurtful words tear us down, but even so, God would have us to respond in a way that builds others up. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can be mindful of others’ needs, even when they have cut us with ignorant comments or thoughtless remarks.
In fact, we are commanded to speak words that build others up: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
And if we simply can’t bring ourselves to utter healing words, may we be mindful that when our response is intentionally injurious, it merely multiplies the wrong. In cases where we can’t think of a merciful, encouraging word, it’s okay to say nothing.
Here’s one reason why: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27).
I want my kids to know that when someone hurts them with their words, it is okay — even wise! — to respond with silence.
Bottom line? When people say what they shouldn’t have said, we can (and should) choose a godly answer — one full of mercy and encouragement, or even one of patient silence.
Because in the end, a godly response is my hope from those to whom *I* say what I shouldn’t have said, too.