What Do I Say to People in Crisis?

Over the past year, Corrie and I have had many things communicated to us as we have walked through our crisis and pain. For the most part, I believe that the majority of these words and actions have been generated from people’s genuine desire to care for and love us.  The reality is that some of this has been helpful and some of it has hurt.

These questions are often asked of us and those around us – “I don’t know what to say?” “What can I say?” “What can I do?”  Like I just mentioned, my experience is that most people asking these questions are ultimately asking, “How can I comfort you?”.  We have felt very loved and cared for in these exchanges, but sometimes don’t even know how to answer.  When comforted, it helps.  We have also experienced people asking these questions from a place of “How can I fix your messiness?…so that I can feel more comfortable”.  The second part of that question, a statement, isn’t overtly stated.  Instead, we feel this and experience it in the question or person’s actions.  This may be a hard concept to understand, but if you’ve been in a difficult situation and someone has tried to fix you and/or your situation, you’ve likely experienced this.  It’s rooted in a selfish desire to clean up the mess for the sake of the other person’s comfort, not the comfort of the person at the center of the crisis.  Unfortunately, it’s a total miss, and the net result is more discomfort for everyone.  This is when it hurts.

Based on a realization of our own needs, processing our pain in counseling, and from my own independent research, it’s clear to me that people in crisis need to be met with comfort.  Even if we have knowledge or experience that would ‘fix’ the situation, or remove them from their pain, I’d assert that the person in crisis still needs to be met where they are, affirmed in their pain/sadness/etc, and comforted.

There is an incredible example of this in the Bible.  In the 11th chapter of John, Jesus chose to change his travel plans so he could be with friends he loved – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  He made this decision because he wanted to care for his friends, Mary & Martha, because their brother, Lazarus, was ill and died.

John 11:32-35

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 

Earlier in Chapter 11 after informing his disciples that he was changing their travel plans, Jesus told the disciples that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  He knew what he was going to do when he traveled to and first saw Mary. Aware of what he was about to do, he could have responded to Mary’s sadness and frustration with him with, “Don’t be sad, I’m about to bring Lazarus back to life”. Instead, he was fully present with her, stepped into his friend’s pain, and cried with her.  This is a beautiful display of Jesus’ character and a fantastic example of what it looks like to mourn with those who mourn.

Recently, I stumbled on an Op-Ed in the LA Times “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing”. (linked below)  It spells out a very simple and easy way to answer the question, “What do I say/do?”, when encountered with family and friends who are in any type of crisis.  I appreciate how the authors expresses the importance of comforting those in crisis, the importance of needing to vent (“dump”) to others, and the importance of saying these things to the right people.  I’d add that it’s important to be honest with yourself about where you are in the “Ring” and to ONLY provide advice when asked for it. Also know, there are 5 different types of pain and each receive comfort in different ways. This knowledge is super important and takes comforting others to the next level. (I’ll write about this in the future.)  That being said, the first step and focus for all of us is comforting those in crisis.

Yes, being with and comforting people in their pain is complicated and messy.  However, it is extremely important and necessary. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake hold you back from loving (comforting) others in pain when they need it the most. Thank you for continuing to journey with us in our pain.

Please take a moment to read this article:  How Not to Say the Wrong Thing


Ring Theory

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