When Encouragement Feels Like Lying
I sometimes find that ‘encouragement’ feels like lying, especially when it comes to chronic illness.
I want to cheer up my sick family member or struggling friend, but when I search through my “encouragement vocabulary” the gems I unearth are phrases such as:
‘It will get better.’
‘God will heal you.’
‘Good will come of this, just you wait.’
These comments sound nice and hopeful. They are genuinely designed to lift someone’s mood – but often I find they don’t ring true.
How can I tell my loved one ‘it’s alright’ – when it’s clearly, obviously, not?
How can I promise them ‘it will get better’ or ‘God will heal you’ or ‘good will come’ – when this might not be the case?
Is It Possible to Encourage Someone without Lying or Resorting to Cliches?
This is something I really struggle with. I want to speak into someone’s dark and awful situation – but I don’t want to offer them falsehoods.
A simple way out would be to say nothing at all – but when someone you love shares part of their life, responding with silence is usually not an option.
Another response is simply, ‘I don’t know, I love you.’ This can be powerful and effective, and true, but I believe we can do more than that.
We have been given words, and I believe it really is possible to use them to uplift and encourage someone with a long-term illness.
How do we do that, exactly? Through much trial and error, and many failed attempts, here are 7 ways I’ve found to encourage without lying:
7 Ways to Encourage Someone with a Chronic Illness (Without Lying)
1. Admit That What They Say Is True
It can actually be really encouraging to have someone affirm your words. It seems so obvious, and even too easy, but how often do we actually respond with: “That really does sound awful. If I were in your place I would be feeling a bit down. It does sound like you don’t have much hope at the moment.”
When we affirm someone’s story, we are not only showing them that we’ve been listening, but also that we understand. We are validating their struggles, and recognizing that their problems are real and genuinely difficult.
2. Tell Them You Wish You Could Take It Away
Perhaps this sounds odd, and even a bit obvious. I mean, of course we don’t want them to suffer! Of course we wish we could wave our magic wands and heal them! Yet how often do we take the time to say: “I really wish there was something I could do to make you feel better. I wish you weren’t sick. I’d really like to be able to take your illness away.”
When we make declarations like these, we are verbally announcing that we are on their side and that they are not alone. Their struggles are ours. We feel for them, we groan with them, we weep with and cheer with them. It is a reminder that they are deeply loved.
3. Tell Them You Love Them
Again, it sounds obvious. They should know that you love them, right? Still, when was the last time you said, “I love you.”
This three-word phrase means a lot, precisely because it can often seem unnecessary or frivolous. When we ‘waste’ words to tell someone we love them, who knows what doubts we are setting to rest?
Social conventions may tell you it doesn’t need to be said, but why should we give into our embarrassment when we have nothing to lose by trying?
4. Remind Them It Won’t Always Be This Way
You can’t promise someone they will get better, and you can’t know if they will get worse – but what you can offer is the reassurance that their situation will change. “It’s awful right now, but it won’t last forever. Things will change, I can’t say whether for better or worse, but you are not stuck where you are.”
Nothing in life stays the same. This can be an immense encouragement when suffering seems eternal and time crawls by.
5. Remind Them That There Is Hope for the Future
This is not a cliche or a falsehood. If our loved one believes in Jesus, we know that life on earth is not the whole story. There is a sure and certain hope in the eternal future.
Yet as long as life endures there is also hope for their earthly future. Who knows what tomorrow will look like? Who knows what cures or advancements or changes in their disease will occur? “It’s so hard right now, but you are alive. This is not the end of your story. There is still hope for a cure. Hope for a miracle – and if not now, then in eternity.”
When we remind someone of possibilities, we offer them encouragement.
6. Offer Them Jesus
The best and greatest encouragement is to point someone to Jesus – but how do you do that? If you are afraid of sounding cliche or corny, then simply tell the truth: “I’m sorry, I can’t do anything to help you except offer you Jesus. He is good and gentle and kind. He understands and is holding you tight. He is here for you.”
7. Pray With Them
It doesn’t matter what you say. Simply sitting down with someone and bringing them before God without shame or fear is a gift. They may not remember or even believe in your prayer, but your action can be an encouragement in itself.
*First published at calledtowatch.com. **Republished with permission.
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Emily J. Maurits
After working for several years in the public health sector, Emily is now studying theology. She believes we are all called to love suffering people, because that's what Jesus did. She is passionate about equipping and encouraging others to do just that, and founded www.calledtowatch.com for the family and friends of those with chronic illnesses. As well as uncovering God's presence in the chaos of life, she enjoys reading, running and writing, with her memoir coming out next year.
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