Many people do not know what to say to a friend, neighbor, or coworker who is suffering. That is okay. There are times when we really do not need to say anything. If we are present, if we make ourselves available, our mere presence will often communicate our concern better than our words ever could.
But we normally will want to say something. Here are some suggestions for what to say, and, even more, for statements to avoid.
It is best not to say, “I know exactly how you feel.” None of us ever knows exactly how the other person feels. Every situation is different. It may be fine to suggest that you have faced similar frustrations, but do not claim to know how the other person is feeling. If they want to talk, let them talk. Do not cut off their effort to express their feelings by claiming that you already know those feelings.
Do not claim to know how this suffering fits into God’s plan. Yes, we believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God. Yes, whatever happens, he has allowed it to happen – he could have prevented it, would have prevented it if it was inherently incompatible with what is ultimately best for us. But how that all works, we do not know. And it could be that we will never find out. “We will understand it better by and by” may be generally true, but it is not an absolute promise. Job was never given an explanation of the troubles that were allowed to come into his life. We need to be careful of claiming to understand what might be left a mystery.
Do not offer to help in a vague and non-committed way. Get direct and to the point. “Can I help with _____.” Make it sound like it is your privilege to help (it is a privilege, after all, Acts 20:35). Or better yet, if the need is clear, just fill the need without even asking. If people might need food, take them some. If someone is injured, mow the lawn without being asked. Don’t make people ask for help with tasks that are obvious. Just do it.
Do not just tell people that you are praying for them, pray for them. Pray with them. Then go home and pray more. But pray with them, right then and there.