How Christian Sayings Can Make Hurting People Feel Hopeless

In the hope of helping others we often say and do things that actually make people more hopeless than the already are.  We have good motives for doing this.  People are hurting and we want to help them, but these people are actually hurting so much that they can’t even tell you that what you said just made them feel worse.

I want to refer to this as Christian-ese Language.  These are words that Christians use in the church or with other Christians.  They are church-y type words.  Words that can have very different meanings between denominations and theological beliefs.  They are words that may or may not  have a Biblical foundation.  We picked them up at church and started using them and may not even understand the roots of their meaning.

Let’s consider how we use use Christian language with others who are hurting.  Let’s consider how our language may affect those who do not attend church.   I hope in doing so we can see the importance of having a solid foundation in God’s Word and a clear understanding of what to say to others in their time of need.

 Lay it down at the altar

There is the belief that I can walk forward at church and lay down my troubles or sin at the altar.  When I have “really” done that I will be free.  At least until I leave that service?

I have thought long and hard about how I can lay down things at the altar. No matter how hard I try it just doesn’t happen. I may pray at the altar, which is helpful, but the minute I get in my car after church my problems are waiting for me.  So did I not lay it down at the altar?  If I did, did I pick it back up?

God left us specific instructions for living through this life.  He didn’t leave us with vague ideas.  This is important because the way He set out for us to handle problems provides hope and the way we set out for people leads them to hopelessness.  If you can explain “how-to” leave things then tell people that.  If you are really trying to say trust God and don’t worry than say that.  The more specific you can be the better.  Hurting people need clarity.

God will take care of her, that, you name it.

God will take care of things.  We are promised He will, but how He takes care of things might not be the way we hope for.  God took care of our sin by sending His son to die for us.  God took care of Jonah’s sin by having a whale swallow him up.  Lazarus died despite the prayers of the faithful.  God did take care of things.  We can trust Him to provide, support, and love, but we can’t promise people that their prayers will be answered when and how they want.  We can promise that however their prayers are answered God will still be awesome and He will supply all their needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus.

Let Go and Let God.

Well meaning people with good intentions say this.  We should trust God for all things.  We should live with the understanding that God is taking care of us, but let’s imagine that I found out my husband just had an affair, my daughter overdosed, or that I lost my job.  If you tell me to just let go and let God you are sprinkling fairy dust on me.  You aren’t taking my problem and pain seriously.  I trust God, yes!  What else can I do to survive?  At those times we need real help not a sprinkle of kindness.  Besides can I really get in the way of letting God do anything?  What are we really saying?  Are we saying trust God and let go of our need to control?  What should the hurting person do?  What should they do tomorrow when they hurt again?

I will pray for you.

Silence is better than saying you will pray for someone and then never really pray for them.  I will pray for you is a common response to people who are hurting.  It is also a sure fire way to make their countenance drop.  People find hope in Jesus Christ.  They don’t find hope in our actions.  Saying you will pray for them is like saying you will get a glass of water when your house is on fire.  People know you care when you take the time to listen to the difficult and sordid details of their life.  They have hope when they are connected to Christ.  It’s nice to know people are praying for you, but it’s better to be connected to The Source of truth and eternal glory.

God calls us to suffer

1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

We are called to suffer.  It will end when it has served it’s purpose in our lives.  Sometimes we do need to take an action that will free us from our self imposed suffering, but there are times when we can’t simply leave our grief and pain behind.  They stick with us for a while.  We also can’t leave our enemies at the altar.  We can trust God to take care of them and us and choose to not worry, but we don’t have the power to free ourselves from everything this world has to offer.  Let’s not add guilt to hurting people who are really trying to trust God and not worry about their problems.

Please don’t place a yoke around others.  Making them believe that one act can take away their pain or by glibly saying things that may not actually help them.  God will deliver us if we humble ourselves before Him, but He might let the trial linger on for a while.  If we tell people they can just leave it and that doesn’t work then we throw them into utter hopelessness.  Yes pray at the altar and pray for deliverance, but realize that like Job, you may suffer for a time.  Job prayed, but it wasn’t one act that ended his trial.  It was God.

What to do?

God provides us instructions for living.

  1. Pray without ceasing.  All the time.
  2. Serve and love others.  All the time.
  3. Read and study His word.  All the time.
  4. Fellowship with believers.  All the time.
  5. Trust God during your trial.  This is a choice.  Make it.
  6. Be obedient.  God expects obedience during the trial.  Keep doing the work you are to do, at home and on the job.  This will help you move forward.
  7. Keep praying at the altar, but expect God to deliver you, not your act.

I have seen fellow believers weighed down by language that imprisons them. The Christian life is hard and God really gave us a way to live through it.  His way gives people hope and only His way.  If we tell someone to let go and let God and then they continue to struggle we will add to their guilt and suffering.  Christ wants to give them hope.

Jesus Christ says to Christians.  I suffered.  My father has determined you shall suffer like me.  Yet, I have ways for you to live through it.  These ways require that you still feel pain and sadness, but in that I AM WORKING AND MOLDING YOU TO BE LIKE ME.  Do not fret. As my Father ended Job’s trial, He will end yours.  I will never leave you.  Trust in me and I will strengthen you.

Thoughts and musings from helping others get through life,

Marcy Pedersen


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