I have never used this phrase very often, and if I did it was in sincerity of heart- which I honestly believe is true for most people. But, after living though some things and watching my friends and family live through some things I’ve come to the conclusion that we, the human “we”, talk way too much and do too little. Here are a few reasons why it’ll never come out of my mouth again to people who are deeply entrenched in their season of suffering.
1. I believe in most cases, It’s insensitive. There, I said it. It’s insensitive and ignorant and my deepest apologies to anyone I’ve ever offered this offensive platitude to. It does nothing to meet people where they are in their suffering- of losing a loved one, of a big professional disappointment, of a complicated diagnosis, etc. It is neither comforting or helpful. It stings, in fact.
2. It associates God with the suffering, which makes it super hard, at that time, to believe He is good. Now, you know as per my last post my thoughts on God and suffering and celebration. You also know those thoughts came after I had to really struggle through the wilderness of wondering whether God was good. Telling folks He’s got better plans does nothing to steer them in the direction of His goodness- all it does is amplify the fact that this is the hardest season they’ve ever walked through, and question the goodness of a God who’d allow it.
3. When you’re “in it”, you cannot see the big picture. I’m hoping this becomes less and less true as I, ahem, mature in this faith, but for now, I cannot see the road ahead when I’m really in a dark place. I cannot see that perhaps maybe there is some truth to the fact that God has better plans because he’s always good and that I walked through this season of grief as part of being human not as a devious plot to make my heart a little more moldable. The big picture escapes me, as i imagine, it does for a lot if not most people.
4. It trivializes their experience. Oh, you lost a baby? Don’t worry, God’s got better plans. Maybe you’ll have twins to redeem the experience. Maybe it was for the best. See? Now, you may have never said it in that manner, but please believe me when I tell you that most people suffering HEAR IT THAT WAY. And please, oh please, never offer possible future scenarios in an attempt to bring hope back to the situation. What you are attempting to do, albeit sweet, will result in the opposite. At least believe in what you’re telling people about that whole God having better plans things. If He does, lets leave the future to Him.
So, what do we say? Damned if I know. I can tell you what was powerful for me. When my sister-in-law drove the two and a half hours from West Philly as soon as I called her and sat on my couch and cried with me. When folks dropped off shower gel and meals and toilet paper and little things that make a house run that I couldn’t think of anymore. When family took Ellie out for meals so that Rich and I could grieve together. When my Doctor, who’s my best friend, grieved fiercely and prayed broken in that little room with me. We mourned that loss together- because we felt it, together. I wasn’t alone.
Often, people feel the need to say something- I know I do. Fight it. Be present. Love with your fingers and your solidarity in watching Parks and Rec re-runs while eating ice cream for dinner. Hold hands. Say nothing. Make it clear that you are there when they are ready. Let them do the talking. If you must speak, tell them how incredibly broken you are for them- but only if it’s the truth. And years from now, you’ll be able to sit together and they’ll thank you for letting them know that God had not forgotten them- and that they were blessed by you in ways you didn’t even know had any impact. Let God be the changer of hearts- it’s his job, anyway.