“How do you truly relate to others’ pain if you‘ve never walked their path?” Dr. Michelle Bengtson


We will all face trials. Jesus told us to expect them:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will need help. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33)

Trials come in all different forms and fashions: health crises, death of a loved one, job loss, financial difficulty, prodigal children, divorce, depression.

I’ve experienced many trials, and on several occasions, I’ve experienced several difficult trials simultaneously. This adds to the intensity of the pain and despair. Given some of the devastating circumstances I have dealt with in the last few years, some have joked, “You’re like a modern-day Job-ette.”

Sometimes, people have encouraged me to “Take it one day at a time.” In truth, I was praying for help to navigate the next five minutes successfully.



Both professionally as a neuropsychologist (and also personally as one who has experienced my share of hardship), I’ve come to realize that when tragedy hits, others (including well-intentioned friends and family) often don’t know what to say or what to do.

Earlier in my career as a clinical neuropsychologist, I was surprised by some of the comments I heard people make in response to suffering, but after 20 years in the profession, little surprises me.

I’ve also been on the other side of that situation — learning that a friend’s child was incarcerated, a spouse had an affair, or someone lost a child to a drug overdose. I remember being dumbfounded. I didn’t have adequate words to console or convey the pain in my heart for them.

How do you truly relate to others’ pain if you’ve never walked their path?

How do you express your concern in a way that comforts while avoiding platitudes or filling space with hollow syllables that help no one?

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. (Proverbs 18:21)

In walking beside patients who are suffering through devastating circumstances (as well as speaking from my own experience of depression and a prolonged bout with pneumonia) or as a caregiver of a spouse who has been diagnosed with cancer more than once, I’d like to share what is and isn’t helpful — because sometimes we just don’t know.



  • “You’ll learn something from this.” When you’re in the middle of heartache, you don’t care about learning from the pain. You want the pain to end. If a lesson comes in the future, that’s just a bonus.
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” When you’re holding on with all you’ve got (sometimes praying just to make it through the next five minutes), it’s not a goal to become stronger but to survive.
  • “Someone else has it worse off than you.” This is the case for just about everyone in the universe, but bringing that to one’s attention doesn’t alleviate the pain in our suffering and makes us feel like you lack compassion and empathy and don’t care.
  • “This too shall pass.” Amid despair, logically, we already know this, but each day, we arise, hoping that today will be the day. So unless you can tell us when things will take a turn for the better, it’s better not to say this.
  • “This must be because you have unconfessed sin in your life.” This statement heaps guilt, shame, and condemnation on someone feeling discouraged and perhaps hopeless. In Romans 8:1, we read, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So rather than instill guilt and shame, share His love, mercy, and hope.
  • “You’ll be better off for it in the long run.” First of all, you have no way of knowing that. Secondly, when you’re in the midst of a crisis, the greatest concern is getting through the crisis quickly with as little fallout as possible — not thinking about how a divorce, bankruptcy, or death of a loved one might make one’s life better (if that’s even possible!).


  • Tell the horror stories of others you know who have suffered similar situations. Both when I was struggling with a 14-week bout with pneumonia as well as the times when my husband was being treated for cancer, it was amazing how many people shared with us the horror stories of every friend or distant relative who had been misdiagnosed or died from pneumonia or cancer. Rather than encourage us, it only invoked fear, doubt, and discouragement — quite the opposite of the encouragement, inspiration, and hope we needed.

Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24)

Knowing what not to say is more than half the battle.



  • “Can I pray for you?When we don’t even know what to pray for ourselves, having someone pray for/with us is such a blessing.
  • “I love you.” When we’re going through a difficult time, we need to know that despite our circumstances and mistakes, we are still loved.
  • “We’ll get through this together.” In difficult, devastating times, we may feel alone. It helps to know that at least one person will stick by us and see us through to the other side of the valley.
  • “You are strong.” Rough patches test our physical strength, mental fortitude, and emotional tenacity. Sometimes, we need the reminder that despite what our emotions tell us, we ARE strong — we can hang in there.
  • “You are brave and courageous.” Going through life’s difficult situations requires courage and bravery when, in reality, we often feel meek and afraid. Sometimes, we need someone to have confidence in us when our self-confidence is wavering. It’s usually just the thing that can undergird us with the fortitude to push through the fear and keep going.
  • “This is hard, but you’ve made it through every other difficult situation. You’ll make it through this, too!” The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that even though we are in a difficult spot, we’ve made it through other difficult spots before, and we can do it again!

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. (1 John 3:18)

As a neuropsychologist, I constantly study human behavior. I watch what people do as well as what they don’t do. I listen to what they say and what they don’t say. When we speak into a weighty silence (often to ease our discomfort), we may do more harm than good.



  • Hold me and let me weep until I’m out of tears.
  • Dry my tears.
  • Hold my hand.
  • Keep me company, or if I want to be alone, check on me frequently.
  • Offer a hug or a squeeze on the shoulder.
  • Deliver a cheerful flower bouquet to brighten a dark situation.
  • Listen quietly without trying to solve my situation.
  • Offer to walk with me — the fresh air will do me good.
  • Take me out to coffee.
  • If you’re going to the grocery store, dry cleaner, or drug store, offer to pick up a few items for me.
  • If our kids attend the same school, offer to pick mine up and bring them home for me.
  • Fixing a casserole? Make a double recipe and bring us dinner.
  • If illness is an issue, offer to go with me to doctors’ appointments. There is nothing worse than going alone.
  • Stop by and pick up a load or two of laundry and return it washed, dried, and folded.
  • Pick my children up one afternoon to give me a few hours to nap, run errands, speak privately with doctors/attorneys/teachers/family members/etc.


In Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone….” Especially in difficult times, we need each other — but it does help to have some guidance regarding what to say, what not to say, and what we can do to offer practical help to those who are suffering.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

Because of Him, hope prevails!

Dr. Michelle Bengtson

Dr. Michelle Bengtson

Dr. Bengtson is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with more than 20 years of experience (serving in private practice for more than a decade of that time) in the diagnosis and treatment of medical and mental disorders in children, adults, and seniors. A speaker, author, and doctor, Michelle is also a wife, mother, and friend. She has experienced her share of trouble and trials; she knows the pain of losing someone she loves, as well as the despair that can follow trauma or illness. Combining her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith, Dr. Bengtson is on a mission to instill hope in the hearts of those who are suffering.

33 Biblical One Anothers

33 Biblical One Anothers

Pray through these 33 One Another Verses, meditating on what it means to love one another deeply from the heart as we learn to walk each other home selflessly.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Skip to content