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Finding the Right Words to Comfort

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Finding the Right Words to Comfort

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When was the last time you were in a situation in which you could not find the right words to say to someone because of the deep trial he or she was going through? Maybe you understood that you couldn't do anything to change the situation, but you still felt like you should say something.

Many of us find ourselves in that awkward position, and sometimes we fumble with our words or actions. God says to "comfort one another" and "bear one another's burdens" (1 Thessalonians 4:18 1 Thessalonians 4:18Why comfort one another with these words.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 6:2 Galatians 6:2Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
American King James Version×

But how do we comfort and encourage effectively? If we have never been taught how to comfort, we probably do not know the right things to say or do. Many of us don't even think to consider what we should say until we are suddenly faced with the situation of offering condolences to someone in mourning or encouragement to someone in a tough trial.

Most people only want to talk intimately about their trial with their very best friends or possibly a minister, and the majority of us do not fall into one of those two categories. So what do we, as caring brothers and sisters in Christ, say to someone who could use a few words of encouragement so that he or she knows that we care?

While every person is different and experiences trials differently, the following list is a compilation of general tips to help you find the right words to say for those relationships and situations where you are not the primary confidant:

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Ask yourself whether your words or actions would be helpful before you say or do them.

Skip "How Are You?"

Instead of asking in general how the person is doing (because in general, he or she is having a difficult time), ask if he or she is having a good day or skip the question all together. Start a conversation with something light like a compliment or something about the week, etc.

Acknowledge the Trial, but Do Not Belabor the Point

Sometimes someone can be so deep in his or her trial during the week that he or she just wants to be a "normal" Church member on the Sabbath. He or she may not want to have to talk about the trial and more than likely does not want it to be the only topic. You should know the person well enough to be able to talk about something else.

Be Supportive but Not Nosy

You do not need to know the details about someone's trial to pray effectively. It is often very effective to tell the person you are here supporting him or her but that you will give him or her the space he or she needs. Let him or her take the lead regarding when to inform you of the details.

Be Specific

Don't burden the person with thinking of something you might be able to do. Instead, offer constructive help—not a general, "If there is anything I can ever do..." Think of what you are capable of doing and offer something specific such as preparing a meal, cutting the grass, grocery shopping for the person, doing errands, etc.

Give People Space

Allow them to cry. Do not lecture on how to "get over" the hurt—it does not help.

In fact, do not lecture at all.

Do Not Say, "I Know Exactly How You Feel"

You may have experienced a similar event, and you can relay that experience, but each person deals with a similar event differently. This statement usually creates an instant barrier of defensiveness in the person you are trying to console. It is better to say that you can relate in some way but you do not know exactly how he or she feels.

Remember that it is not about you; it is about helping the other person. If you know how he or she feels, you will find something else to say.

Honor the Memory of the Lost Loved One

If a person has lost someone close to him or her, do not list all the wonderful attributes of the lost loved one—the person in mourning already knows them and misses them.

Instead, it helps to relay a fond memory you personally have of that person. He or she who is mourning may learn something that he or she didn't know and that will add to his or her collection of positive memories instead of belaboring the list of attributes they are missing.

Avoid Preaching

It is always good to remember God's plan of salvation, but it is not the time to preach or lecture on it.

Avoid Saying "Time Heals All Wounds"

It is true that time helps the wounds of a loss lessen, but it does not help to be told that when a person is in the stage of loss—the hurt is too fresh.

Stick to Normal Displays of Affection

If you do not know the person well enough to hug him or her on a normal basis, it might not be appropriate to hug the person during his or her time of trial.

Physical touch brings on emotion and sometimes people are "holding it together" and do not want to be triggered emotionally at church services or at a group setting.

Avoid Asking About Future Plans

Don't inquire about the future plans of those involved with a loss of a loved one. They probably haven't thought that far ahead yet, and it is overwhelming to think about it at that moment. Sometimes it is not appropriate at all.

Once Is Enough

Once you offer condolences, it is not necessary to do it over and over each time you see the person again.

Give Tokens of Comfort

Make the person smile by giving him or her a little note card with your favorite scripture or an inspirational scripture to think about during the week. The point is to show you care by a small token, which can be done in countless small ways, making the other person smile or feel inspired.

Know When to End the Conversation

If you aren't sure when to leave the conversation, it is better to give your support and make it short. Doing so allows others to approach the person suffering, and usually others are waiting to give their support too.

Although we are instructed to be a close family with our brethren, we do not have to be so close that we know every single detail of everyone's lives.

We need to know our role in the family and perform it. Oftentimes that means supporting a person or group of people in very uncomfortable situations, and we need to make sure we do our best to avoid making it more uncomfortable or harder to go through. The key is to have an attitude of service and selflessness, always keeping the person you are trying to comfort first and foremost in your mind. UN

After fighting cancer for over a year, Connie's husband, Mark, died on Oct. 11, 2008, at the age of 45. Her first husband, Jim Turnblad, also died of cancer in 2002.