Stupid Phrases For People in Crisis


1.  God will never give you more than you can handle. While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.
It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.

2. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe he just shuts a door. Maybe there is no window. There was no window for Job. There was a cosmic battle that raged as he sat in distress. There might not be a window. And if Job’s friends had kept their silence, perhaps God would not have told Job to pray for them at the end of the narrative.

3. Did you pray about it? Again – theologically correct. “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything…” but in a crisis, you don’t heap guilt onto pain and suffering. At a time of deep pain in my life, someone said this to me. I looked at him in silence, and then with a shaky voice I said: “We haven’t been able to pray in three months–so no, we haven’t prayed about it.” I was in so much pain– it was like he had slapped me. Pray for the person, but please, please leave the clichés at home.

4.  God is good – all the time. Another one that is technically theologically correct. But is it helpful to say this when someone has just lost a child and is screaming at Heaven? Is it helpful to say this to the person who just had their fifth miscarriage? Is it helpful to say this to the woman going through a divorce, because her marriage could not hold up under the stress of a special needs child? They may say it, and we can nod our heads in agreement. But for us to say this from a place that is calm and safe will probably not be helpful.
But for the grace of God go I. “But why you? Why do you get that grace and not me? Why am I the one in the crisis? Was God’s grace withheld from me?” Those are valid responses to that phrase. I understand the phrase, and I’ve used it myself, but it doesn’t help the person who is in deep pain.

5. Don’t worry. God’s in Charge. Yeah? Well, he’s not doing a very good job then is he? God is in control, but it brings up some serious theological implications about God’s role in the crisis. Instead of a theology of suffering, we might want to think about a fellowship of suffering. Because a fellowship of suffering leads me to sit with a person and say “It’s too much to bear – may I sit with you and bear it with you?”

6. Maybe God needed to get your attention. Thank God no one ever said this to me during times of crisis – because I might have to punch them in the face with a knife. That’s all.

7. Maybe it happened for a reason. Remember what I said about punching someone in the face with a knife? Yeah – that.

8.  Just call me if you need anything. While I want to appreciate this, the fact is that people in crisis usually don’t have the ability to call, so they won’t. Even if you don’t know someone well, you can bring them a meal or drive them somewhere.

9.  I could never go through what you’re going through. Come again my friend?? This does not comfort. A false elevation of the character and ability to cope of the person going through the crisis only serves to further wound and isolate. The one who is going through a crisis longs to be on the other side. They wake up and breathe deeply, only to remember the awful reality of their situation, and wish they didn’t have to go through it.

10.  When I think of your situation, I’m reminded how blessed I am. No. No. No. First off, this is theologically completely incorrect. The beatitudes heap blessing on those that mourn, on those who are meek, on those who are poor in spirit — not on those who are safe, secure, financially stable, and proud. Those in crisis are not an illustration of how blessed everyone else is. In  the counter intuitive, upside down way of the Kingdom of God, blessing looks completely different than what we in the West have made it to mean. There are big problems with our use of the word and concept of blessing.

So what do we do? How do we respond?

I think those are difficult questions, but the best analogy I have for people in acute crisis is looking at them as burn victims. Caring for burn victims is divided into three stages that overlap.

The first is the emergent or resuscitative stage. At this stage priority is given to removing the person from the source of the burn and stopping the burning process. The big things to think about are fluid replacement, nutrition, and pain management. Translated into crisis care, this means we’ll bring meals, coffee money, and pick up children from day care.

The second stage is the acute or wound healing stage. At this stage, the body is trying to reach a state of balance, while remaining free from infection. During this stage, patients can become withdrawn, combative, or agitated. This stage can be a lengthy and unpredictable stage. Burn victims, like people in crisis, often lash out at those closest to them. Translate this into listening, listening, and listening some more.

The final stage is the rehabilitative or restorative stage. The goal at this stage is for a patient to resume a functional role within their family and community. Reconstruction surgery may be needed. Encouragement and reassurance are critical to the person at this stage. This would translate into going on walks with the person, taking them out to a movie or dinner, having them over for coffee or a meal.

Burn care has a lot to teach us about loving and caring for people in crisis. And those who care for burn victims rarely use clichés — they are too busy caring.

In February, I wrote a piece called Toward a Fellowship of Suffering, and I’ll end what could be a cynical post, with words from that piece.

“There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.’”


Don’t Isolate Yourself

As a parent, have you ever watched one of your children struggle with something too big for them to handle?

This morning on the way to school, I watched my 11 year old daughter doing that as I stood and watched her. She got more and more frustrated, angry, and felt defeated, but didn’t ask me for help, even though I was standing there, actually waiting to help her. I finally stepped in and helped, not to prove she couldn’t do it, or to show my superiority, or any other reason but that I loved her, didn’t want her to struggle or have any of the aforementioned feelings.

What is it about us (myself included) that is stubborn and insists on doing everything by ourselves, struggling and failing on our own without help?

We have a loving Father standing right there waiting to help if we will just ask, and acknowledge we need help. And His only reason is he loves us…no other agenda. Sometimes He sends us help through others.

We need to acknowledge when it is time to ask for help. We often isolate ourselves when we are going through difficulties. Either we are too proud too ask for help, afraid to let others see us as anything but “having it all together”, or we have fallen into despair and hopelessness, not knowing what to do or who to turn to.

Perhaps the reason we do that is due to the influence of society, anticipated judgement from others, or simple human nature. Regardless of the reason, isolating ourselves is not a beneficial option. We are meant to live in community with others, and our survival has historically been dependent on it.

When I was going through my divorce, I had four children at home, was only working part-time at $10.00 per hour, and at the time wasn’t receiving any child support. I was totally broke, and reaching the point of desperation, especially since I wanted to protect my children from anything more than what they were already going through. We hardly had any food, and I was constantly worried about our water and electric being shut off. My car was undependable, not that I had any money to put gas in it! I remember always looking down at the ground as I walked anywhere, in the hope that maybe I would find some lost change on the ground. It was November, and my middle son’s birthday was coming up in a couple of days. I didn’t even have money to buy him a card. I felt completely defeated, and on the verge of giving up. I was at home crying by myself, when a thought occurred to me…there were some friends (our neighbors) who I knew loved my son and might be willing to help me with a gift for him. I called, and told her my son’s birthday was in a couple of days, and asked if maybe they could lend me enough money for a card and cash to put inside. She immediately responded with wanting to help, and said her husband would stop by. When I hung up, the feeling of relief and hope was overwhelming, overpowering any feelings of despair I had previously felt. What happened next was more than I ever imagined or expected. The doorbell rang a few minutes later, and her husband was there with their debit card in his hand. He literally wanted me to take the card and get whatever I needed. No dollar amount attached to it, no strings attached, no condemnation. What they were offering me was all from their hearts, a true extension of unconditional love, and a promise that I was not alone. I was dumbfounded. Because of their help, I was able to get groceries and a gift for my son. What they did was much more than give me money. I will never forget their act of kindness, and my eyes still well up with tears anytime I think of them.

Remember that there are people who care, are willing to help, and would never want you to feel desperate to the point of giving up. There are also organizations specifically geared toward helping people, whatever the need.

You are not alone. Life is hard…but you have to know there are people waiting on the sidelines, ready to help!