As she began pouring out her heart, sharing her pain and baring her soul, my mind was already crafting a response. She was searching for hope and encouragement. She longed for someone to understand. She needed a friend. I wanted to be that friend and say the right words, but instead, I blurted out, “It’s going to be okay. God’s got this.”
As I looked at her confused face and saw her eyes filled with sorrow, my heart sank. Maybe that wasn’t the best response? God may have held her in His arms, but that didn’t mean she was feeling okay in that moment. She felt crushed by the weight of her circumstance, and my quick and somewhat cliché words didn’t help. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening; I was fixing. And she didn’t want to be fixed, she wanted to be heard. She longed for my sympathy, not my pity and pitiful comments.
Have you ever been there? It’s a heart wrenching feeling when your well-intentioned words come across as lofty and empty, rather than encouraging. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of a quick and somewhat cliché retort, and it has left you feeling a little confused or even less hopeful.
The good news is, the Bible offers us an insight on how we can choose our words wisely. Proverbs 15:4 tells us “a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”
Proverbs is one of those books in the Bible that you can re-read over and over and still have that “Aha!” moment. It is chock-full of wisdom, offering gentle and loving, yet convicting reminders of His Truth and promises. Several verses in Proverbs tell us how our words can help and heal or cause great damage. Tuck those verses in your heart and rely on them when the time arises.
James 1:19 tells us that “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
Did you catch that first part, friend? Quick to listen. In a society that is quick to do many things, listening doesn’t seem to be one of them. Our attention is so easily divided. But, our God is a great listener! He hears all the cries of our heart. When we are still and quiet, attentively listening to those around us, we make room for God to enter into our conversations. We allow Him to speak through us. Our words become more encouraging when we soften our hearts to listen to the cries of another and help carry their burden instead of trying to fix their pain.
We are also told that we must “put off false words and speak truth, as we are members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25) This verse speaks to the body of believers. It teaches us to speak the truth in love. This verse commands us to treat one another with respect and dignity. That includes the words we say to one another.
As sisters in Christ, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. We are called to live peacefully with one another. We are called to hold one another accountable and point each other back to His Word. We are also called to lift up and encourage one another.
Encourage one another. Sounds easy enough, right? However, when we utter (or hear) those all too familiar and “churchy sayings,” it oftentimes leaves us feeling discouraged.
So, here are some typical churchy sayings that need to go, and what we can say or do instead that may offer hope:
1. “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”
This may be said with deepest sincerity, but how often have these words come out, only to realize that the person they were said to is quickly forgotten. This phrase is posted all over social media as well. It’s a quick and easy response, but oftentimes that’s all it is… a response.
So, what may be a better response? Take 15 seconds and actually pray for them. If they are in your presence, ask if you can take a moment to lift them up. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy or perfect prayer. Just let God in and speak from the heart. When you see a post on social media that prompts you to pray, then take a moment and do just that. Choose to make it a call to action, not an empty reply.
2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Saying these words to a sister in deep sorrow may actually cause more pain. That’s because God does gives us more than we can handle, at least on our own. A friend that lost her husband. A parent fighting to save their child’s life. A mother suffering in silence with depression. This is proof of the broken world we live in. Grief. Pain. Failure. These cause deep wounds and leave scars in our heart. A friend suffering with so much may be questioning if God is still good.
So, what may be a better response? This is when we be still and quiet. Listen. Hear your sister’s cries of pain and cry with her. Offer your condolences and help carry her burden by providing a meal, helping care for her children, or just giving a hug. With a sincere heart, offer your ear and time letting her know she isn’t fighting the battle alone. In being the hands and feet of Jesus, we gently remind her that God never promises this life will be easy, but He does promise to never leave or forsake us. He sees her. He hears her. He loves her.
2. “Bless her heart!”
Being a Southern gal myself, these words have flown out of my mouth a time or two. It sounds cute and even a bit witty. Unfortunately, it is usually said with passive -aggressive sarcasm. When you are on the receiving end of this cliché, it stings a little. While it can mean something enduring and sweet, typically it’s not. Often, this not-so-sweet saying is being said in secret, stirring up gossip and those “let’s pray for her” prayers.
So, what may be a better response? This is when we become the body of believers and realize if a sister is really in need, instead of judging her, we offer our help. We must also be mindful of what we say about others in a group setting, and choose to back away from those “bless her heart” conversations. They will only cause great damage to her and your heart as well.
Ladies, our hearts may be in a good place and have the best of intentions when we say churchy sayings like these, but if we don’t truly listen first, then our words are meaningless. If we don’t invite God into our conversations, gossip can be an easy trap to fall into. And if we don’t choose to step out in love, by serving our sisters in Christ, a friendship can’t truly bloom. We must also remember when another sister in Christ shares with us a churchy saying, many times it is done so with sincerity. If it truly hurts your heart, take that hurt to your Father. Ask Him to help you receive the heart behind her words and grant forgiveness if needed.
So today I invite you to listen before you speak. Pause and pray. It’s also okay to be silent. We don’t have to always come up with the right words. Sometimes the best thing to say is through the actions of our heart.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.