1You/Things are going to be fine.

Here’s the thing – we can’t offer that platitude because we can’t guarantee that it is true. Even as a Christ-follower who believes implicitly in Romans 8:28, I clearly see a difference between the promise of God working the difficulties of someone’s life into a story of redemption and the idea of “being fine.” One makes room for heartache, disappointment, and the possibility that fulfillment may not occur in this lifetime while the other invalidates the pain and trades on cheap peace. If you are tempted to use this phrase with a hurting person (in any situation) ask yourself if you are motivated by making them feel better or by removing any discomfort their pain may be causing you.
Things you might say instead:
I believe in you.
I will walk by your side until this is finished.

2I know how you feel. When I…

I’m going to assume these words are only ever spoken out of a desire to keep the hurting person from feeling even more isolated. But let me be clear – if the motivation even hints at one-upsmanship, then stop saying this in any situation but especially when trying to comfort a grieving person. However, even with a genuine heart, we can never truly know how another person feels. Case in point, even as Joseph and I process through all the same experiences with Asher, our emotions and thoughts are carried along by a process unique to each of us. So, these words become unfeeling and lack the heart attitude necessary to show someone we are interested in them.
Things you might say instead:
Thank you for sharing your heart.
If you ever need to talk, please know that I would be honored to listen.

3This is for the best.

This ugly step-cousin to Number 1 plays fast and loose with God’s word. It presumes to understand how the powerful hand of our great Maker turns the events of sin and brokenness into a picture of grace and beauty. But any time we try to simplify the complexity of God’s plan (and its use of our pain) we malign Christ and inflict untold horror on our fellow man. We simply do not have the authority or perspective to offer this cliché. Plus, it invalidates the reality of whatever difficulty the person is facing in the present. They may even believe the hard journey they are on is for the best but still struggle, with every waking breath, to find the courage to face the deep agony that that path brings to them.
Things you might say instead:
Your hurting is not in vain. I don’t know how, but I believe this season will be a part of your beautiful story.
My heart hurts with you.

4Why are you still sad?

There are examples of people plunging into such an abyss of grief that they never fully recover. But these instances are genuinely few and far between. The vast majority of people who walk through a season of trial or tragedy do so at their own heart’s pace and come through intact. To presume another’s grief has outlived its usefulness is akin to deciding a baby in utero no longer requires its placenta. Grief is a psychological and even biological response to great suffering and it aids us in processing deep emotions. Because different people feel things differently, their grief will look and last differently, too. The underlying assumption in this question is a self-righteous comparison that “knows” appropriate behavior and can determine what is best.
Things you might say instead:
Your grief is unique, and you will know best when it is time to move forward.
Being sad is normal. There is nothing wrong with you because you are still overwhelmed at times with grief.

Lastly, sometimes the best thing is simply to say nothing. It is perfectly fine to be quiet. In these moments, being with the person can speak more than your words. Do not be afraid of what might appear to be an awkward silence. Too often, we rush to fill spaces that are actually necessary to communicate deeper truths. “I am here for you,” is far louder when you truly are there rather than said with the most genuine intentions but not accompanied by a significant amount of your time.

Loving people who are hurting is hard. It is ugly and in the short run, it appears to offer very little return on your investment. People in pain are naturally self-absorbed and not able to reciprocate your care and concern of them. And grief is a strange master requiring those under its spell to bend to its whim. Remembering these things may help your compassion for them to grow.

Ultimately, people in difficult circumstances are still people. They need respect, consideration, and love just like the rest of us. If someone in your circle is struggling through a season of pain, be gentle in caring for them. And don’t say any of the above 4 things.