What exactly does it mean to speak life into someone else’s hardship? It might not be what you think
As a nurse I have seen amazing Christians who lived their life way better than I ever have or probably ever will, endure extreme amounts of suffering. They loved God, they loved people, they cherished God's Word and they still found themselves sick. I was young in my faith at the time and spiritually immature when I first ventured out into my nursing career. I had the biblical head knowledge and was hungry to see God move. I loved my patients like they were my family. I really did have the best intentions and wanted nothing but the best for them.
Although, I was extremely positive and would always encourage my patients, I can't help but look back and wonder if I helped them or if my positivity was possibly a hindrance for them. You're probably thinking how can being positive cause a hindrance? Instead of comforting them in their affliction, had I possibly made them feel like they weren't doing enough. If I ever came across that way, I never meant to. We all tend to look back in retrospect and wonder how we could have approached things differently.
We learn in church that we have the power of life and death in our tongues. So we speak life and positivity over ourselves and others. We tell everyone, I'm blessed" and "Life is wonderful" no matter what the real truth is.
Many times we hear well meaning words for our suffering like, “If you just have enough faith. If you just repent. Do you have hidden sin in your life? We reap what we sow. If you would just do the five steps to healing like so and so's book said. If you would just pray with authority and speak to your circumstance.” Some of these phrases are true in many cases but unless we know for a fact why someone else is suffering, these words can become very unhealthy for a person enduring grief or hardship. It can add even more weight onto their already heavy load.
Instead of telling the grieved that they need to do more, or that they somehow brought a tragedy on themselves, could we be missing some of the most important parts of “speaking life”? Like love, compassion and just sitting with someone in their suffering?
These attributes may be key to speaking life into someone else’s hardship.
It says in MATTHEW 23:4 (ESV)
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
I know this is a verse speaking about pharisees and we're not pharisees. But as Christians, we can sometimes, unknowingly place high standards of burdens on other's shoulders that not even ourselves could obtain if we were in the same circumstance. Unhealthy standards that can be toxic instead of helpful. We can speak words that seem positive and encouraging but in the end they may bring no edification for the person suffering. The one receiving our words may be left feeling more hurt and frustrated than before we spoke to them. They may feel as if their faith isn’t enough for their healing or that their sin in some way has brought on their illness. Many times those who are suffering are left feeling that they haven’t done enough.
Although, we don’t intentionally try and make others feel this way. Sometimes, we’ve just never been on the unhealthy side of life and it’s hard for us to understand. And this is where those of us with chronic illness also have to extend compassion back to the one who just doesn’t understand. I can tell you it’s so different being on the other side of healthy. I’ve now been on both sides of life, healthy & unhealthy. The lessons I have learned are many.
Through my own process of suffering with chronic illness I'm learning a few extremely important lessons. Not only is God teaching me how to discern words but also how to choose my own words wisely before I allow them to flow from my mouth. He has shown me how instead of certain phrases and words being positive and life giving, (like I had thought for my entire life) that they might unknowingly be placing a heavy burden upon a sick person, a depressed person, a special needs parent, a person grieving or someone who has experienced tragedy.
Unfortunately, It has taken me going through it to see the hurt that it may cause.....
See, before I became sick I was guilty of this myself. I honestly thought that my words were speaking life. I didn't understand the effects that my well intentioned words could have.
The Bible says that we have the power of life and death in our tongues (Proverbs 18:21). As Christians, we often interpret that to mean words that we speak in our own lives. Like speaking positively or negatively to our circumstances. But could it also mean that we have the power in our tongues to encourage or to tear down another person? Could it mean that we have the power of life and death in our tongues to speak into another person’s circumstance or suffering? I tend to think so. We can do so much damage to others, with our tongues, not even meaning to. We can speak words, to others, that bring life and medicine or we can speak words that bring death and discouragement.
We often just speak out of our assumptions of the person or situation. It’s not as if we would purposely try to hurt another person. We most of the time are actually trying to help. But more times than not, we see the other person’s life differently then what the true reality is for them. We can speak things that we know nothing about. I have been so guilty of this, in the past.
Chronic illness has been very humbling and has shown me the error of my own ways when it comes to my tongue. The suffering has taught me valuable insights about God, love, grief and what “speaking life“ into someone else’s hardship actually means.
So, here are ten things (ehh, more like twenty) that I am learning about comforting a friend who may be suffering:
1.) Sometimes, my friend might just need an ear that’s willing to listen. She may not need or want my advice.
2.) I need to carefully choose my words so not to invalidate my friend's pain.
3.) I need to make sure that I'm not adding to her burden. I shouldn't leave her feeling like her faith isn't enough or that her trial is due to disobedience. None of us know why someone else is having to go through suffering. So it's probably best if I don't assume.
4.) Not all positivity is edifying and helpful.
5.) Lamenting and grieving while enduring suffering are not negative emotions and are actually a very healthy part of the healing process. ”Cry if you need to.”
6.) I can admit that I don't know all the answers. I don't know why this has happened.
7.) God still heals. It just may not be in our timing.
8.) I can stand with my friend and declare God's promises over her life. I can pray with my friend and show love, mercy and compassion.
9.) Just because it's painful and it hurts, doesn't mean that my friend doesn't have faith, it just means that the situation honestly "just hurts". Just because my friend laments, It doesn't mean that she's not content, worrying or is being negative. Just because my friend is grieving, it doesn't mean she is wallowing in self pity.
10.) I shouldn’t pity my friend. Even though her circumstances may look bad and she is hurting, she may be experiencing the presence of God like never before. I shouldn’t assume that just because she is suffering in the flesh that her spiritual life is a wreck. It might be quite the opposite. We can feel suffering and all the pain and emotions in the flesh yet still be richly blessed with God's presence in the midst of the pain.
This is a crazy example but have you ever stubbed your toe? Or even worse, broke your toe over a piece of furniture? The pain was real, it probably crippled you for a bit. It was hard to smile when your toe was throbbing. But God’s presence never left. You still had a thankful heart, although the hurt was extreme. It didn’t change who you were in Christ. It simply “just hurt”.
I use this example because I think everyone, at some point, has probably stubbed their toe. Imagine if the pain of stubbing your toe never went away, it remained and was constant. You wouldn’t worry. You would still believe in God’s goodness but you might shed a tear, possibly daily, if the pain was severe enough. That’s how grief, loss, chronic pain or sickness can be, but on a much larger scale. It is downright painful. It’s hard not to experience the pain. It’s right there in our faces to feel the full effect. Although we get over a stubbed toe fairly quickly, some hardships can last for years and can come with severe pain and suffering. But the suffering doesn’t change our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Just because we are suffering, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t content or grateful. Just because the pain may be too severe at times to laugh it doesn’t mean that the joy of the Lord is not in our hearts. It just means the process is extremely painful!
Some people who live with chronic illness find themselves enduring large amounts of pain daily. If you’ve ever had a stubbed toe or a toothache, you can imagine how hard it would be to live with that pain indefinitely. It’s hard to even imagine!
I think some of the toughest ladies that I have ever met have been chronic illness and chronic pain sufferers. God has truly given them a supernatural ability to endure some intense things. These ladies are far from weak, they are warriors!
I think the church could greatly benefit from hearing more testimonies from people who have walked through tremendous suffering. They have so much to offer and I'm so very thankful for those who have shared with me about their seasons of suffering. They have made my family's burden lighter.
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