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Finding the Right Words

by Christine Ingram

Jesus calls us to ‘love one another’. When someone we know is going through difficult circumstances, whether the loss of a loved one or the loss of health, how can we be loving in our conversations? It can feel awkward at times to find the right words.

We don’t want to burden a struggling person by saying the wrong thing and so we might err on the side of caution and keep everything light and talk about the weather. In the desire not to put a hurting friend through a potentially awkward conversation, we might even avoid them altogether.

So how do we encourage a person who is grieving or dealing with difficult circumstances? We show up. We are available. We take time to listen. We look them in the eyes and we are present. Better than the words we use are the cues we listen for, cues that invite us into more conversation.

We do not ask a lot of questions, unless we are invited in. One friend going through cancer treatment told me they were asked many intrusive questions that made them want to retreat rather than seek encouragement from others. What kind of cancer do you have? How big was your tumour? And so on. They understandably found that difficult. Perhaps a way into a conversation – instead of offering advice or sharing similar stories – would be to listen, to put the emphasis on the individual’s needs instead of our own. Those friends might have been encouraging had they asked other questions. How are you doing today? Can I bring you a meal? Can I walk your dog? Can I pick up any groceries? Are you feeling up to getting together for coffee?

What an honour to be invited into conversation with a hurting friend. And so we enter the conversation humbly and prayerfully, actively listening more than speaking, and following our friend into the areas that they wish to talk about.

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