I can make you a list of things NOT to say in various circumstances. Why? Because I have had them said to me in an assortment of painful circumstances in the past several decades. You are not the only one who has been left with a hanging jaw and a shaking head. And second, I can make that list because I have said a few myself. I have friends who have miscarried, who have lost spouses early, who have lost children to accident or disease, whose marriage has fallen apart, who have been the one to discover a mate’s suicide, who have suffered the pain of a horrible disease and its ultimate end, and probably every time I have said something I wished I hadn’t. I try to remember those times when someone says something similar to me—they love me as much as I loved my friends or they would never have tried. They would have simply walked away.
And so I will never make one of those lists that regularly make the rounds—“What Not to Say When…” In fact, I am getting a little fed up with them. Those lists seem to imply that the person hearing those words has never said anything dumb themselves, that they would automatically do better. Pardon my skepticism. I have known some wise people in my many years, but none of them has ever managed to be perfect in their choice of words every time. I doubt that anyone in their twenties or thirties or even forties has either. Should we be willing to learn better? Yes. But most of what I have heard has come in a scathing, sarcastic tone meant more to lash out than help someone else learn.
God expects me to act like a Christian no matter what I am going through. Did Jesus bark at His disciples the night before His death, a death He knew would be so horrible that He “sweat drops as blood”? Did He browbeat the women weeping before the cross while He hung there in agony? If anyone could have been excused for snapping back, it would have been Him, but the example He left was one of grace under pressure.
As His disciple I must still be longsuffering, no matter what I am going through. I must “forbear in love.” I must “bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things.” Certainly I must be willing to say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” if the thing they do comes out of a heart full of love. It is difficult when, as the Psalmist said, My days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop, (102:3-7). I have been there. On those days, it is difficult to put up with other people’s blunders. It is, in fact, difficult to deal with people at all. I am ashamed of my failures and so grateful to my caring friends and family who still showed me their love, even when I didn’t show mine and probably made them wonder why they kept bothering to try. But I am not going to excuse myself because of my despair by attacking them with a scornful list of their failures.
God does not put in an exception clause for when we are hurting. Like His Son, we must still exercise self-control and love, graciously accepting the comfort that those who care sometimes ham-handedly give. Even afflictions that have nothing to do with suffering for His name can test us as much as persecution can, just in how we handle them. Isn’t that, in fact, the real test? Pain is never an excuse for sin.
For hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously: 1 Peter 2:21-23.