No Pat Answers

If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!

When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.

And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.

When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.

Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.

But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.

Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story)

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11 thoughts on “No Pat Answers

  1. Amen! In times when I have been grieving, it really hurts me more when people try to solve it or put a Scripture bandaid on it (as you said). They mean well, but it’s more discouraging than uplifting. Thank you for bringing light to this common problem. I don’t know your story or if this post has been born out of a season of loss, Barbarah. If it is, I’m so sorry that you’re hurting right now, especially if part of that hurt was caused by someone’s carelessness or ignorance. I’m praying the Lord would surround you with His arms of love and comfort, my friend!

  2. Having gone through some tough times the past few years, I think you can definitely discern the heart behind people’s words. So many give a “pat” answer because they feel obligated, or they are hoping to get some gossip about the situation. When people really care it shows, no matter what they say!

  3. I love the bit about “This is hard. I don’t understand it. But I’m praying for you.” Just this weekend I had a conversation with my sister, who got divorced a couple of years ago. She shared something people said (and which was honestly something I might have said), and said how hurtful it was. It struck me how each person is so different, and how we need to be careful what we say.

  4. Thank you for this, Barbara. I won’t go into detail again (I’ve shared this before), but as someone who is perpetually single without so intending, I appreciate the kindness you encourage with this post. Too many people act as though such a situation is either:
    A/ the fault of the lonely person
    B/ easily remedied
    C/ nothing worth troubling over
    or
    D/ all of the above.
    I’m grateful for your thoughtful words and deeds.

  5. I’m so with you on this, Barbara. I’ve been both the recipient and (unfortunately) the giver on pat answers. They might make the giver feel good (it gives us something to say!) but it doesn’t do much for the recipient. So pat answers need to go away. Thanks for the encouragement to just be present and be real.

  6. Just letting people know you care is so important. We need to be wise about what we say, but we also need to not be so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing. Thanks for sharing some great thoughts with us.

  7. I know that intent of others is to offer comfort and help during a hard time, so I try to keep that in mind and offer them grace. And when I am the one offering comfort, I try to remember to say little and offer my presence and prayers. Even though I know better, I sometimes think about offering advice! It is hard for me to see others in pain and I want to fix that pain. Thankfully, I mostly stay quiet.

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