What do you say when a friend is really hurting? Finding the perfect words is never easy, but here are a few possibilities to get you started.
Flowers in hand, I rang the doorbell of my friend’s apartment. After three weeks on a new job, her boss had called her into his office this morning and informed her that things weren’t working out and he was going to have to let her go. I knew my friend was taking it hard; it had taken her several months to find this job, and now she was going to have to start searching again.
My heart raced as I waited at the door. What should I say? Should I try to make her laugh and get her mind off her situation? Should I ask her how she is doing, or will she think I am prying? If I don’t bring up what happened today, will she think I’m being insensitive to what she is going through?
When the door opened, I handed my friend the flowers and nervously blurted out that I cared about her, and I wanted to help in any way she needed. I could tell she had been through a lot that day, so I stayed only a few minutes and then hugged her good-bye and went home. A few days later she sent a card, thanking me for the flowers, but especially for the encouraging words.
For most people, life has its share of disappointments. Fatigue from a demanding schedule, financial difficulties, a failed endeavor at work or school, health problems, difficulty getting along with a family member or friend—these are times when a person can feel frustrated and discouraged.
My heart raced as I waited at the door. What should I say? Should I try to make her laugh and get her mind off her situation?
Our words can be a valuable tool to cheer up and encourage a person who is down. Proverbs:25:11 tells us, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken in right circumstances” (New American Standard Bible). By offering some words of encouragement, we can help discouraged people face their present and future with courage and a positive outlook.
Yet often that’s easier said than done. Sometimes we want to help, but we’ve never been in a situation similar to what the discouraged person is facing and we are at a total loss of words. Maybe we don’t know the person’s circumstances well enough to comment on specifics, but we still want to show our concern.
When you want to give someone a word of encouragement and don’t know what to say, here are 10 phrases to help bring new perspective to a discouraged person’s life:
1. “Let me know if you ever need to talk.”
One way to help is by letting the other person know you’re available to listen if he or she ever wants to talk about the problem. You may not be able to give advice from your own experiences or background, but just listening and trying to understand the suffering person’s perspective can be a big comfort. Often, being able to talk about the particular problem is just what a discouraged person needs to sort through his or her concerns and gain the insight needed to deal with the situation.
2. “You’ve made progress.”
People who are discouraged may rarely see their own achievements—in their personal lives, in their careers or educational goals, or in their lives as Christians. You can cheer on those who are down by helping them see their personal growth and accomplishments. Acknowledge any new habits or achievements. You might say: “A few months ago, you rarely exercised. I’m really impressed that you’ve stuck with your Jazzercise class,” or “You used to tell me you thought you’d never be able to figure out how to use that computer. Now, you’re an old pro!”
Point out trends you’ve seen in your friend over and months and years, such as improvements in how he or she relates to others. If you know it’s a struggle for your friend to keep her cool under deadlines at work, you could tell her, “I’ve noticed how patient you are with your office coworkers lately.” Help the discouraged person focus on her or his progress rather than failures.
3. “You’re not alone.”
You can remind a person who is discouraged that he or she is not alone. You are choosing to face her problems with her and certainly others are also rallying behind her. Reassure your friend you want the best for her and you are praying about the situation. Help your friend see she is not the only person to face that particular problem. If you know of other people who’ve been in such a situation, suggest your friend talk to that person. Your friend will feel less isolated and will gain constructive information to help work through the problem.
4. “I really admire you for…”
A person who is depressed often has lost sight of his or her good qualities. You can encourage the person by pointing out his good qualities. What are your friend’s natural talents and abilities? What personal traits do you appreciate in him? But go beyond appearance or personality. Point out your friend’s personal strengths such as dependability, friendliness, trustworthiness, patience, sincerity and other character traits you value in him. Talk about the positive differences your friend has made in other people’s lives. Statements such as, “Your smile really cheers me up,” or “The way you’re always ready to help others has been a wonderful example for me to follow,” can be encouraging.
5. “The present is not the future.”
Those who are discouraged tend to see their present problems as overwhelming and can’t envision their future as being any better. You can help them see that one day they will be able to function better than they can at present. Ask such questions as, “What would you like to be doing next month that you can’t do now?” or “How do you hope to be living this time next year?” Encourage your friend to write down a few goals for future reference. While your friend is talking, listen for statements such as, “I always wanted to…” or “I wish I had…” And then urge your friend to make those undertakings her or his goals. Get the discouraged person excited about something positive and constructive. Focusing on a brighter future helps a person get past a gloomy present.
6. “You’re not a failure.”
Another way to get a handle on discouragement is to remind others they’re not a failure just because they’re at a low point and experiencing negative feelings.
Another way to get a handle on discouragement is to remind others they’re not a failure just because they’re at a low point and experiencing negative feelings. If you’ve been frustrated over a similar situation in the past, be willing to talk about how you were feeling at the time. Knowing you were able to stick it out may give them the motivation to go on. Remind your friend it is normal to feel frustration, discouragement and disappointment now and then. However, as Christians we should not let depression destroy us.
7. “I want to help in any way I can.”
Offer to help your friend and provide practical assistance. Doing so will take some burdens off your friend so he or she can focus on solving the problem at hand. Realize the other person may feel uncomfortable asking for help, so offering to help in specific ways may take a big load off the other person. Offer to take your friend’s children to the park or to babysit. Ask if she would like you to go grocery shopping for her or if she needs clothes taken to the laundry or dry cleaners. Volunteer to cook and deliver a complete meal to her family or do some housework for her. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to anticipate what might be genuine needs.
8. “There are solutions.”
Discouraged people often feel they are in a hopeless situation and cannot see what resources are available to solve their problems. Help your friend see there’s at least one way to improve the situation, and maybe more. Together with your friend, brainstorm as many solutions to the situation as possible. Even silly, far-fetched ideas are okay if they make your friend laugh and get his or her mind off the problem. Talk about each option and help your friend figure out what plan is best.
9. “You did really well.”
A discouraged person is often preoccupied with a specific failure or mistake. One way to help is by finding something about the person you can sincerely applaud: “You did a great job!” “I really appreciate all your hard work.” “I think you’ve got some wonderful ideas!” Sincerely compliment your friend’s initiative, ideas, efforts, achievements or choices. Don’t overlook the routine, everyday things: “Those cookies you made were really delicious!” “You were a tremendous help with the church picnic.” “I heard you did a wonderful job organizing the senior citizens’ banquet.” Everybody enjoys feeling needed and appreciated.
10. “You are a special person.”
Keep in mind that encouragement should be truthful.
No other person has your friend’s unique opportunities in life or thinks the same way your friend does. Nobody else can duplicate his or her personality, childhood, family background and experiences. No other person has that particular combination of talents, insights and personality traits. Point out the ways your friend is truly special. Tell your friend, “There has never been and never will be another person exactly like you, and I’m grateful for knowing you,” or “You are very special, someone I will never forget.” Let your friend know exactly how much you care for him or her and enjoy spending time together.
Keep in mind that encouragement should be truthful. It is only blind reassurance, for example, to say “Your situation’s not that bad,” or “Things will get better really soon,” when the facts may be saying just the opposite. If we tell other people things are all right when they’re not, this tends to confuse sufferers and makes them feel guilty since they see the situation differently. If we try to predict the future and tell a suffering person, “Everything is going to be better soon,” when, in fact, the situation gets a lot worse before it gets better, this tends to disillusion the discouraged person.
Focus on what you know to be true: You care about your friend and are pulling for her or him. To know there are others who are concerned about them and who are by their sides even during the low points can give those who are discouraged the strength they need to face setbacks and challenges with a positive mindset.