Four Letter Words for the Suffering…

100 Cups has been a bit on the heavy side lately.   Some might be thinking, “get over it already…figure it out…this is depressing…give me some good news or something happy to read.”  Others have navigated these deep waters, get it, and know this is a healing, therapeutic platform.  The subject (however unhappy) effects us all at one point or another.   No one is immune to suffering; and therefore I find it crucial to share.  

This blog is all-inclusive.  For those who are currently walking through hard things…this is for you.  For those who have loved ones enduring hardship…this is for you.  For those who have walked alongside our family–this is a sincere thank you for loving us so well with just the right words and actions!  

Human beings and especially westerners have a strong aversion to discomfort and pain.  We do our best to numb and avoid it at all costs.   (Sadly, this can translate to avoiding our friends or family who are suffering.)   We have no idea how to respond and sometimes we really botch it.  I know this because I personally have blown it and made many blunders in the area of doing the right thing in relationship.  

I have cut and pasted many quotes from friends who have responded to our circumstances.  I cannot make this stuff up–but we are teetering on a PG 13 blog–and I know many read these to your kiddos.   You have been warned. 

We are designed to be in relationship with one another;  friends and family are a special part of the spiritual salve that heals our wounds.  Take this seriously…we have a responsibility…we are chosen to be the Hands and the Feet.   

We often feel paralyzed and don’t know what to say or how to respond to another’s pain.

First things first…


  Most often the best thing is to say something simple like: “I am so sorry, I have no words.”  Believe it or not, this is just fine.  (Actually this will be my favorite go-to phrase if you have nothing to say, OR if you think you should say something extra important or special but don’t know what to say:  JUST SAY THIS!)  It allows the person to know you are with them and for them.  You are, most likely, (as they are) in shock.  But saying this confirms you are there…are not perfect…don’t have all the answers…but you care.  

Something simple…sincere…and compassionate will do.  

If it is your personality, you can say something touching like:

“I have wept for you and know I will continue to do so…”

Or if this is more your personality, say something like this:

“Big ass prayers of healing directed your way!”  

Expressing your understanding that their pain is deep and the road they are walking is rocky, gives your friend permission to be real. 

Received this gem a few weeks ago and it truly was a gift:  

“Storming the heavens for all of you this weekend.  This is all really really tough shit, Jenni. Give yourself lots of grace!!!!”


As a matter of fact fixing things is usually not an option or your friend would have already done so.    

Be careful offering answers.  I do not believe it is “God’s will” when someone loses their husband to terminal cancer, so be careful to explain away their loss.  Instead my strongest suggestion would be to refer to #1 before you start trying to explain the mind of God.  

Consider asking the questions your friend is asking.   It (once again) allows the person to not feel alone.  As long as the questions are more rhetorical and you aren’t expecting your friend to actually explain the situation…this can affirm their confusion and questions surrounding the hurt.    

“What the hell is wrong with people?  Trafficking children, tearing apart families?  So much evil in this world.”
WARNING:  I am about to express some controversial statements about scripture, the Bible and pain…so brace yourself.  


Please use scripture if and only if you are able to be gracious, loving, encouraging and compassionate.

Here is one that was especially powerful to me…

“Moved to tears.  Sweet friend asking the Spirit to lead my prayers for you. 
Reminded of the faith of Moses momma, who placed her child in a basket and watched him float down the Nile.  Her courage to let go gave way to her sons destiny and ultimately Israel’s freedom.

Your courage matches hers.  God is up to something amazing.”

Do you feel the grace, love, artistry even?

Another scriptural email came in the form of a word document.  Shared by two prayerful women who together spent hours combing through some of my favorite books, devotionals, and they included gems from God’s word.  The document was dripping with grace, love and truth…I printed it out to re-read often.  Do something like that.   

If you feel like you have to say something spiritual just because “God is the answer”…BE CAREFUL.  Sometimes we feel the urge to say something spiritual/scriptural.   Though good intentioned, we injure and discourage a friend instead of building them up!  We use God’s word out of context or in a way that makes our friend feel that maybe if they had enough faith they would be able to pull through.    (I have so much to say on this subject it could be a SEPARATE BLOG!)  

Basically, if there is a mini-message or sermon meant in any way to “teach” a lesson to the person with whom you are sharing…leave that business to God.  He is our Great Counselor and He can teach and instruct.   If you hear the voice of your 4th grade teacher or “the know it all kid” from Sunday school saying the words that you are penning, stop.  Just stop.   Skip the spiritual stuff and refer back to #1.  It is way safer.   

Seriously–it is not helpful, healthy, or constructive to share spiritual messages with one who is suffering unless the words are delivered with loads of grace, love and even…prayer.   (You want me to pray about the scripture I give to a friend in time of need/crisis?)  YEP…I do.   Job’s friends were jerks.  Don’t be like Job’s friends.    

One of my friends shared a Proverbs 31 blog with me recently.  I sucked in a deep breath, bit my lip; praying it was NOT going to be a cheesy cliche set of spiritual words that made pain and suffering a light and fluffy matter.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was perfectly written speaking truth about fiery arrows and tethering our hearts to God’s word to keep our them from being tattered.  Stuff that completely applied, that recognized deep pain and didn’t flippantly respond, “all things work together for good.”  It was a legit, solid biblical blog that was what my heart needed at the moment.  Send those.  

Reminder…there is a prayerful art involved in sharing spiritual truth on suffering.  Most folks who have walked through deep pain can comment on the difference between a thoughtfully shared scripture and a random verse thrown at you, that causes you to duck, hide, or feel shame and guilt after receiving it.  God did not intend for His Words to do that kind of damage…especially to those who are suffering!    

I would prefer 4 letter words written with love and care over God’s words thrown at me haphazardly!  (I know–I may have just lost the respect of many people by actually putting this on paper–but PEOPLE–God’s Word matters, and the context in which it is shared does too!

Enough…moving on.

Got it.  I know what to say (and what not to say)…

What DO I DO???

Depending on the circumstance here are my suggestions.  Sometimes we need the physical presence of others…sometimes we need space.  It will be up to your discernment to decipher what folks need.  The good news is some people will be better at certain things and others will be better at others…we are all the BODY and we work together to LOVE the little lambs that are limping.  

But again…don’t be paralyzed by someone’s pain…


Bring a meal.  Drop it on the porch and don’t come in…drop it and drive.    

Bring a meal…and stay.  Sometimes we need outside presence.

Bring take out…pizza/brownies…unhealthy stuff.  Sometimes we need comfort food.  

Bring super healthy veggies and fruit…non-casseroles.   Sometimes we are sick of the unhealthy stuff…and need legit nourishment.

Bring movies or games for the kids.

Take the kids…let them sleep over at your place.  

If your friend allows you in the house…

Take their dog for a walk.  

Take out their trash.  

Do the dishes.  

Do a load of laundry.  

Listen.  Let them cry.  Don’t talk.  Listen. 

Connect your friend with others.  (When your friend seems stuck…suggest someone for them to talk to.  A counselor…or someone else who has walked through hard things.  Someone who understands pain/suffering…who can listen…offer a book, a prayer, or a word of empathy.)  

Basically–ask yourself, “if I was in their position…what would I want done for me?”  AND DO THAT.  

If you are STILL with me…thank you.  You are a good friend not only to me, but those around you who are hurting.  I am now preaching to the choir–but want to share one more thing.  Most of the time, our natural desire to avoid discomfort drives our avoidance of pain and those who are experiencing it.  Or possibly, we feel inadequate.  So we do nothing.  I hope after reading this you feel more empowered and positive about entering in to the mess.  BUT…there are a few that actually are reserved for another reason.  We believe that the person brought upon their own pain and suffering and therefore should lay in the bed they made.  I hope it is in some crevice of your subconscious–but if this is an overt thought that keeps you distant–my suggestion is to stay far away from the person suffering…you will probably cause more harm than good.  OR…if you are ready to be really mature and grown up…do #1.  And let God do the rest.   In my humble opinion, in this lifetime, it is our job to leave the judgement to the Judge.  I spent too much time in my 20s getting this wrong.  (It is the reason I know to reference it now!)  But hear me…it will only destroy relationship.  It will not bring the healing salve that your hurting friend or family needs.  Do not do what I have done.  Do the right thing.  (#1…or nothing.)  

I cannot tell you how good it feels to put this on paper and I am hopeful that you will be able to love others better because of my botches and blunders.  Putting words to paper on things that Chris and I have discussed for the past decade is rich.  Thanks for “listening” and letting me share.  Now go share some love and compassion with someone who needs it.  

Be the Hands and the Feet.

May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Blessed,



2 thoughts on “Four Letter Words for the Suffering…

  1. Sometimes it helps to have someone just sit with you in the pain so you don't grieve alone. From far away, I feel your suffering and am praying for you all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s