When You Don’t Know What To Say

It’s happened again. Someone you know just had their life blow up. You just found out some friends – that couple who always seemed so happy – are getting a divorce.

It was just announced at church that one of your pastors, a close friend of your family, is gone, because of a “moral failure.”  Some missionaries you’ve known for years are suddenly coming home, and you find out that it was because the husband had a years-long addiction to pornography that was discovered.

What do you say to them?

For far too many of us, the answer historically is “nothing.” We don’t know what to say. This is not something we were expecting. These are not people we expected to go through this stuff. These situations tend to shake us, exposing as fragile and vulnerable people and relationships that we assumed were rock solid.

And often, we respond with silence.

It’s hard knowing what to say to someone going through a really hard time. It’s easy to get inside our head and overanalyze…

“Do they want to talk at all?”

“I don’t want to bother them.”

“I don’t have any good advice to give them.”

“I haven’t gone through what they’re going through.”

supportiveA lot of the time, we end up talking ourselves out of saying anything. Someone else is certainly talking with them, right? I’m sure they’ll do a better job than I could.

Several years ago, about a year after my addiction was exposed and I’d been fired from my position as a Worship Pastor, Stacey and I were still experiencing a lot of silence from people in the church we had served for over a decade. Whenever we would randomly see someone out, they would seem very glad and relieved to see us and to see that we were doing well. Often, we’d hear something like, “Oh, I’ve been praying for you guys and hoping that you were OK! I wanted to reach out, but I just didn’t know if I should. I didn’t know if it was OK, or if you wanted to talk about it.”

comfort03We understood people’s discomfort, but those comments always made us sad. About this time I read a great blog post from Mike Foster from People of the Second Chance. It put great, clear words to what we were feeling. You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts…

“When people are hurting, our silence only communicates distance between us and them.”

“We can quietly pray. We can think about the person’s pain. We can feel deep sadness for them. These are nice things, but not good enough.”

“So be a real friend. Have some courage and say the words. Write the letter. Pick up the phone for 5 minutes. Don’t be silent.”

Starting that conversation is going to be hard. I’m not going to tell you otherwise. But it’s worth it. And if it’s worth getting over the discomfort for yourself, just imagine what the other person feels. The person who is lonely, or hurting, or ashamed, or angry, or desperate. Your reaching out could be what God uses to give them their first glimpse of hope.

Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say. Say something.

How about, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you and I’m here.”comfort04

The Author: Greg Oliver

OliversFBprofileGreg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.

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