What to Say and Not Say in Seasons of Suffering

Beba SchlottmannOther Writings, Uncategorized 2 Comments

“I was glad to be surrounded by precious people who made me feel like I mattered more than my disease.”

(Chasing Life, P124)

I met Hanna Freeman about ten years ago at a missions conference in Tennessee. The connection between us was almost immediate, and we found ourselves sharing stories of the field and our thoughts on God, life, and relationships. Hannah has experienced first-hand the struggles of difficult and broken relationships among other challenges. Recently, she penned her thoughts on how to walk with friends through suffering (divorce, grief, loss, and/or depression). I loved what she had to say. So, I shamelessly asked her to be a guest on my blog to allow you access on her journey with suffering, and what she has learned in hopes that it will help you in your own journey.

Interview With Hanna Freeman

Beba:  Hanna, first of all, welcome to Chasing Life! I am glad to have you here to share with my readers a little bit about who you are, about your journey with life’s challenges, and more specifically, your journey with suffering.

Hanna: Thanks so much for having me on your blog! It’s such an honor. You are so wise, full of life and obedience to Jesus, and I miss our season together. To your readers, I’m Hanna! I’m a songwriter and worship leader, and I also work in Human Resources at a nonprofit in Nashville, and I LOVE my city. God is moving mightily here. I’ve traveled quite a bit, but Nashville is truly my favorite place and I’m blessed to call it HOME!

As far as my life journey… my story is that I’ve learned to truly “never say never!” God has taken me through many adventures I never could have seen coming. Some adventures good and some adventures hard. Some adventures took me through what I call “detours.” I’ve been divorced now for over two years and I’ve walked the grief path since. Divorce was a detour for me, something I didn’t see coming that I recently navigated within the past few years, but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned through it. It caused me to understand surrender in a new way.

In my season of suffering now, I’m currently on the side of seeing God work it for good. I wasn’t always able to see it, but I knew I would see it eventually and had clung to that promise until it came to pass. Jesus is so good to keep His promises. 

Beba:  I’m sure the process has been tedious and painful, but I am encouraged by seeing your positive attitude and resolve to trust God thorough the pain. Also, I read your awesome list of do’s and don’ts and wise advice on how to communicate or behave with those who suffer. I would love for you to share that wisdom and honesty with us.

Hanna:  It took some time to get the courage to talk about my experience, but I thought it was time to share some tips for people on how to WALK with someone through grief.

  1. Co-dependency can be developed in grief

Remember, their pain is not yours. You should feel sad with them, but don’t stay there… You can help carry their pain with them, but separate your emotions from theirs. They need you strong. 

2. Grief is exhausting

They don’t need your sympathy for long, they need your strength. Aaron lifted Moses’s arms UP. Aaron didn’t say “Gosh, I’m sorry that you’re tired, Moses. Should we leave and give up so you’re not tired anymore? “ No. Aaron lifted Moses’s arms FOR him… Aaron SAW the need for His own strength in the battle. Be strong for them, and understand that grief is a weight. The beginning stages of grief are absolutely EXHAUSTING — in every single way! You need to understand that your friend who is walking through grief is tired. I slept a lot! I was depressed for a season, but I was also very tired. Grief is heavy and taxing. So, do not give them your story of grief unless you are walking through healing, because they CAN’T carry it. And they will try to carry it to make sense of what you share. Their brains are going at a million miles a minute and then crash the next minute. Don’t give them more to carry.

3. Be gentle and thoughtful

People say some dumb things — and it’s okay! We all do. I’ve said a lot of dumb things. But this is a reminder to be gentle and thoughtful. Be slow to speak. Quick to listen. 

Do not say: 

  • “I wish you were ___ (happy joyful etc…)” 
  • “I just want you to be___”
  • “I KNEW something was off…” 
  • “I actually wondered 6 months ago if you were ok…” 
  • “There are better fish in the sea”   
  • “You deserve…(x y and z)” 
  • “God KNEW this would happen; He has a plan…” 
  • “God was just taking ___ from you because He has a better plan” 
  • Death: “God just needed ___ in heaven.” 
  • “Time will help…”  

4. Resist the urge to relate

They don’t need to hear the story about how your great aunt’s cousin went through the same thing. They don’t need to hear about how your grandpa died 27 years ago. If the way you relate isn’t encouraging and simply “a story” without encouragement – it holds no weight. 

Do’s for better encouragement: 

  • Just. Be. With. Them. 
  • Make them laugh. 
  • Be ok if they cry. 

5. Expect to give more than they can pour out 

Don’t be offended if a close friend becomes more reserved. Make sure they have someone to walk with. Otherwise, just lay low and pray for them and don’t be easily offended.  Be ok with not being included in their suffering. Grief is hard to walk with alongside of people. My circle got VERY small. Be ok if you’re not chosen to be in that circle. Have grace for them. You will never be tested more as a friend until your friend walks through depression, death, divorce, etc. 

Beba:  These are great!  Are there any statements that have become part of your go-to when visiting or just having a conversation with someone struggling with loss, sickness, or depression?

Hanna:  Absolutely. Say things like this:

  • “You can do this.” 
  • “I believe in you.”
  • “One day at a time…” 
  • “I know we don’t see every step, but I believe you’ll make the right choice for the next step.” 
  • “If you don’t know what to do, wait. God will show you.” 
  • “You don’t have to figure it all out right now.” 
  • “I see (list a strength) in you!” 
  • “You know, I noticed that you handled ______ really well” 
  • “I know you feel ________ and that’s okay. I understand.” 
  • It is important to acknowledge how your friend is feeling…
  • And finally, my favorite one from a dear friend: “This sucks, and I love you.” 

Beba:   I can honestly relate with most, if not all of what you have shared.  And believe it or not, I have that friend who has told me, “This sucks, and I love you.” Best thing ever! Do you have any last thoughts and wisdom you can offer us?

Hanna:   Sure! It’s really simple: Carry the grief with those who suffer but remember you’re not their healer, Jesus is. HE is the one who turns mourning to dancing. HE does it. Not them. Not you. JESUS does the growth work. So, sit with them in the process. Let them grow from grief to joy. Pray PEACE AND JOY over them, and watch God turn death, depression, and divorce into life, joy, and unity with the Father. Remember, you’re a GOOD friend that God chose to UPLIFT them in their season. So, stay in your lane next to them and run with them. 

I will leave you with these scriptures to pray over them: 

  • 1 Corinthians 3:6 
  • Psalm 1:3 
  • Jeremiah 31:13  
  • Psalm 30:11 
  • Exodus 17:12 
  • Galatians 6:2 
  • Isaiah 61:3 
  • Isaiah 26:3
  • Isaiah 40:31

Beba:  Hanna, thank you for sharing from your heart these important and personal lessons you have learned from your own experience with suffering.  I have always said that although we all suffer at some point in life, we do not suffer alone. God, in His great mercy helps us use our own messy and painful brokenness to encourage others suffering equally or perhaps worse. I think the important thing to remember is that God has placed amazing, loving people around us to offer support and encouragement through our dark valleys. We don’t have to suffer alone!

Hanna Freeman

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