It’s hard to know what to say when someone is hurting. We want to acknowledge their unhappiness, and offer support, but how? Platitudes can feel insincere – phrases like “You got this!” or “Let go and let God” can ring empty when someone we love is suffering. Sending a picture of a peaceful meadow with an inspirational saying feels too shallow, too trite. We don’t want to make it worse, but we want to honor their pain.
It’s ok to say, “I don’t know what to say.” To say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting, and I wish I could help, but I don’t know how.” To realize that people aren’t always asking for a solution, but perhaps a listening ear, or someone to dry their tears, even if we can’t “fix” their problems.
We often ask, “Is there anything I can do?” and our friend says no. That might ease our conscience and make us feel as if we’ve done all we can. But instead of asking the question, we could offer something specific – “I’d like to bring you dinner this week. What night would work best for you?” Our friend might still say no, not wanting to impose, but we can assure them it’s an open offer if they change their mind.
We can also follow up. Many acquaintances will say “Sorry to hear that, I’ll keep you in my thoughts” – but it’s rare that anyone will check back after a few days, a week, a month. It takes time to process a life challenge, a loss, and our needs will change along the way. The friend who checks in with us from time to time … that’s the friend who feels sincere, genuine.
An inspirational quote, a Bible verse, an encouraging meme … these can be offered with the best of intentions. But perhaps the most authentic way to help is to just say, “I care. I’m here. I’m thinking about you.” And then follow up.