Kurt Willems has written a brief but thoughtful articles on spiritual clichés that are not helpful to share with a person who is in pain.
And here are some thoughts I had in response to Willems’ article:
For me (and many others I’ve known throughout the years), even when said by someone who really wants to help the person who is suffering, these clichés (and others like them) actually don’t help at all. In fact, these spiritual clichés often open lead the suffering person on a downward path that ends in either self-recrimination and/or resentment toward God.
For example, here’s a totally fictional but possible interaction as the “Friend” strives to encourage the “Person In Pain.” As Willems says in his article, “Also, if these are slogans you’ve used recently, my words here are not aimed at judging you. Rather, I want to invite you to consider the impact of the words you use, even if the motive is pure (which I assume it usually is when matters of pain and suffering arise).”
Friend: “God is in control.”
Person In Pain: “Well, if God is in control and God loves me, then why is God causing or allowing me to be in such pain for so long with no hope of healing?”
Friend: “God is allowing your suffering so that you can learn ________ and grow spiritually.”
Person In Pain: “If that’s the case, then I must be a really slow learner, because I have been suffering physical and emotional pain for a decade now, with few medical answers and no hope of recovery.”
Friend: “You know, God’s ways are mysterious.”
Person In Pain: “So, how am I supposed to learn whatever it is I need to learn if I have no idea what God is trying to teach me by causing or allowing this ongoing and increasing suffering?”
Friend: “You just need to trust God. God is working all things together for your good.”
Person In Pain: “I don’t see, nor do I feel, much good coming from this suffering. How do I trust a God who causes or allows such suffering, not only in my life, but even worse suffering in the lives of literally millions of other lives?”
So, the question is, “If these kinds of clichés don’t help people who are in pain, then what can we say or do that could or does help?”
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