What Not to Say.

I am not quite sure why we say these words. I do it too…I don’t say these specific words, but I say others. Cliches…words tagged on to the end of sentences of which we have no real end. I am learning in my own life, as one who aspires to help others…unfortunately…my words often fall short. This word loving woman has learned…at times silence is best.

You may be surprised to learn, good-hearted helpers…in attempting to bring comfort we choose bad words. Much like, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”–“Words-That-Must-Not-Be-Spoken”!

The words people speak over those in pain are typically delivered with great intentions. The listener is often at a loss themselves…and so we search…we recall things we have heard others say…or feel helpless and try to pull something from our magical healing hat. Sometimes we find words that resonate…but sometimes we don’t.

Over and over again whether it is a job loss, an illness, or a husband who is unfaithful…the bad words follow a group of female friends. Like a hovering heavy cloud ready to rain bad words on its recipients. We are sincerely attempting to help our confidante feel better. Longing to offer some sort of help or care…OR wishing the conversation away…the bad words haphazardly enter the conversation.

The problem with these words? They won’t help. So if you are trying to provide comfort and love…these words won’t do the job. It will actually pour salt on the festering wound you are trying to heal.

Deep breath helpers…this might sting…but we don’t know what we don’t know…and no one expects you to know…

When someone you love has lost a child, parent, friendship, spouse or job. When investments have been made in a project that fails. When someone is trying to walk faithfully (or innocuously) through life and their dreams are hammered…

Here is a short list of what NOT to say…

1. “God works all things together for good.”

Cause…He sure does. And I am sure He will. But maybe not this side of heaven. Don’t take the verse out of context…and please do not use it on a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer…don’t do it. Place a gag over your mouth before you allow it to exit your lips.

Moving right along…

2. “There’s a reason for everything.”

Cause there might not be. There is a season for everything. And there is a reason for the season. But I am not sure there is a reason for everything. This blog expresses far more eloquently and poetically truth about these 5 little words. Just.please.stop.saying.them.

3. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Because He might. He often times does. And it is those very words that can cause our faith to falter because we have this false sense of how we “should” respond. We should be stronger. We should be able to handle the hardship. We feel like a failure and doubt our foundation when the world delivers a crushing blow. God will give you Himself in the midst of hard things…He can handle it…but we ultimately cannot. Seems like semantics…maybe it is…but those words are not helpful…and for me, I find them semantically untrue.

This is a beautifully written blog that calls b.s. on this statement and Biblically backs it up. A worthy read.

Here’s another I have heard this 3x this week and that is why I am a teensy bit sensitive to all the words people use to come alongside their loved ones in times of suffering.

4. “It could always be worse…or…there are always others who have it worse off than you.” 

This is absolutely true. I am SO aware of this I could start the list you are referencing today and would not be able to  finish the names until tomorrow. I could share in grand detail all of the examples I personally have witnessed in my lifetime–as well as draw maps to several friends’ huts and hospital rooms. I could not be more aware of the fact that there are others in far worse circumstances than myself.  My story is minuscule on the pain scale compared to others.


The last time this statement was made to me I literally wanted to jump across the table and take out the person’s trachea. Please don’t make me feel guilty over my grief AND cause me to fear my next steps–because God allows some pretty terrible shanangans to go on this side of heaven. And that is just it…I find this truth to be one that actually invokes FEAR and not faith in the person you are trying to comfort. Your friend has been through a difficult trial–their faith in God (if it existed) is shaky at best. This statement only causes greater doubt in His goodness or care for their lives. Your friend will constantly be looking  over his shoulder wondering when the next bomb will drop on his own life or the life of someone he loves. This statement does not do good things for God’s relationship with His kids. (Think spiritual paranoia.)

If you have said any bad words within the past week let me be clear. I am convinced your intentions are good. One cannot be angry with a person who is trying to offer kindness! Who can remain irritated at a person who is trying to deliver well wishes and pull a little pain off another’s plate? I will admit, I do believe there are times when the helper wants the person in pain to stop whining or rush the grieving process. This unhelpful helper doesn’t get it and we just have to be okay knowing not everyone will get it. Pray for the person…or refer them to this blog. We are all trying to figure out the grieving process and what to do with pain, so I am writing and believing the best. A while ago when I was far more eloquent and a little less cynical, I wrote a really sweet blog about what to do when a friend is hurting. Instead of focussing on what NOT to do or say it shares what you can do. Not to beat my own drum…but 4 Letter Words for the Suffering has some pretty decent suggestions for heart care. If you are still reading this, I am convinced you want to be helpful and love your hurting friend. Incredibly, you may find 4 letter words–instead of these 4 statements–just might do wonders.

May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Blessed,








7 thoughts on “What Not to Say.

  1. Jenni,

    Thank you so much for this post! I just had a long-term relationship end after three years and I have heard almost all of these comments in the last week. While I certainly understand my friends mean well, these are comments I try to ignore. It is hard to process grief no matter what the circumstances and I, like you, shutter to think about the “it could be worse” statements. So I appreciate your openness in sharing.


  2. This is good information, thanks Jenni. I really like all these reminders.
    I have heard #3 many times in my life. And therefore, I have probably said it too 😦
    When Kirby nearly died at birth I heard it so much I thought God must think I am SO strong and I questioned him because I sure didn’t feel that strong. When people said it at other very difficult times in my life I thought, COME ON, I don’t want to handle all this God! I’m really not this strong!
    Also, when we all say the same ol’ sayings they don’t seem to carry true meaning anymore. I do agree with you though, people are usually only trying to help!
    I have followed another blog for years where the writer’s young son passed away. She pointed out a very simple thought as well. She hates when people say that he “is in a better place” She pretty much screams that the best place for him to be is right here with his mama! And really, who can argue that?
    Love you


    1. The hearts behind the words are so very often pure and full of kindness and friends are simply at a loss. I agree we say the same ‘ol sayings and they DO lose meaning. I know it is hard to be creative at a time like this…but hopefully this will help point to a few words that are “least” helpful! There are so little explanations for pain this side of heaven…sometimes we see the other side but often don’t. I know you get this and are a beautiful shining example of a fighter. You are not quick to offer the “easy” answers. Appreciate this about you!


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