We sat in the doctor’s office, exhausted by the constant struggles with our son, only to hear the doctor say, “I think you just need to give him more to do.”
I don’t know if he could see the steam coming from my ears and the tears in my eyes, but I couldn’t believe that he would look at eight years of insanity in our home and tell us it was due to our inability to give our child enough to do.
As hard as comments like that have been, the ones that hurt the deepest have been from other believers who have insinuated that our child’s problems were due to our lack of parenting, or that if we just prayed and trusted more, God would intervene.
The reality is, it’s hard to sit with another person in the mess of their suffering without trying to impose our own “wisdom” and rationalize it away. Another person’s pain can make us uncomfortable because it confronts us with the undeniable reality of how vulnerable we are.
When Comfort Hurts
We see this clearly in the dialogue recorded between Job and his friends. In the end, we see that the greatest comfort Job’s friends offered was when they sat with him in silence. They faltered when they couldn’t bear watching their righteous friend suffer, convinced that only the unrighteous would suffer so deeply.
We’re tempted to believe that if we obey God, he will protect us from harm. When we see suffering come to a godly believer who is striving after Christ, it’s incredibly unsettling. Though we may desire to comfort them, we naturally want to find a reason for their suffering.
Deep down, we want to know how to keep such pain from entering our lives.
Out of that fear, we are tempted to either run from their pain and avoid them, or respond as Job’s friends—comforting them for a time, but then foolishly trying to make sense of their suffering with comments that are often unbiblical and unhelpful.
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For example, we may hear comments such as, “Well, God must have allowed this because…” or, “I’m sure things will get better soon…” or, “If you just trust Jesus and pray in his name, he will take this away from you.”
We see this in Job 5:8, in Eliphaz’s response to Job, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause.” In other words, “If it were me, I would go to God and repent.”
These are foolish attempts to make sense of God’s ways (as if we are wise enough to understand them) and as a result, it often ends up hurting the very person we are trying to comfort.
How to Guard Your Wounds from Salty Words
You can probably share how good-intentioned friends have spoken words of “comfort” that felt more like salt in a wound than salve for the soul. This can quickly cause us to retreat from others, including the church. Although this is an understandable response, we have to guard ourselves from isolation and allowing those hurts to take root.
I encourage you to guard yourselves with these reminders.
1. Ground yourself in truth.
The best way to guard yourself from hurtful and unbiblical comments is to continually fill yourself with the truth and promises of Scripture.
If you are meditating on the truth of the gospel daily—remembering that your sins have been paid for and you are no longer under God’s wrath—then you won’t be as flustered when someone insinuates that your suffering must be the result of some hidden sin. We must remember how God is always using our trials to grow us in him and purify us for righteousness, but it’s no longer from his wrath and punishment (Romans 5:8-9).
Likewise, if we are grounded in the truth that as followers of Christ we will suffer as we follow our suffering Savior (1 Peter 2:21), we won’t be as shaken and confused by the false promise, “If you just believe and have more faith, God will take away your suffering.”
We have to be grounded in the the Word of God. It will keep us anchored in the truth and protect us from spiraling into spiritual confusion when the misguided words of others are spoken into our suffering.
2. Know your capacity.
There may be seasons when we are so burdened by grief or trials that our capacity for fellowship, explaining our trials, and expending energy is limited.
If we are staying connected to a local church and hearing the Word of God preached consistently, we can be discerning about who we choose to spend our time with and what relationships we put energy into.
During these seasons, it’s crucial to be intentional about surrounding ourselves with other Christians who are prayer warriors and encouragers—those who are firmly grounded in the truth of God’s Word. Along with that, we must pray for humility to hear hard truths from those who love us, care about us, and have walked closely with us. God uses trials for many purposes, one being to expose and set us free from sin. To that end, he often calls humble, loving friends to help us see sin that may be hindering us in our walk of faith.
Personally, we have found it helpful to build into friendships with others who are going through, or have gone through, significant trials. There is a unique compassion and encouragement that fellow sufferers offer, those who have received the comfort of Christ. On the flip side, it’s also been important to realize that just because someone isn’t suffering doesn’t mean that they can’t walk with us and be used by God to serve, pray for, and encourage us in a way that their season of life allows them to (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
3. Give grace.
Lastly, remember that we are all flawed sinners in the process of being made more like Christ. Most people who speak a hurtful comment have good intentions, even when they are unknowingly speaking out of insecurity, fear, and lack of understanding. There is a good chance that we, too, have unintentionally hurt others at times, out of our own ignorance––we should all be quick to extend grace and forgiveness to one another.
When we are hurt by the words and judgments of others as Job was, we need to filter their words through the lens of the gospel, asking Christ to help us discern what is true, and trusting that God will ultimately be our defender.
By God’s grace, he can even use the judgmental and hurtful words of others to draw us to him, grow us in grace, truth, and compassion, and use us to bring comfort and hope to others who are hurting.