Giving Grace to People in Crisis – the Sequel to Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

Clear Tea grace

When I wrote the piece “Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis,” I had no idea the nerve that I would touch. Sadly, I think it resonated deeply with people because they have heard all the stupid things I mentioned. I was honored to read through the comments; I was saddened by what I read. It makes me believe that we need mandatory workshops in crisis care.

But the question remains, what are some good things to say to people in crisis?

Here are a few things that I’ve found tremendously helpful.

  • You can cry. Weird isn’t it, how we need to be given permission to cry? I’m continually amazed both as a nurse, and as a human being, at the reactions that people have to their own crying. The most common response is people saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cry.” This is heart breaking. When we apologize for crying, we are apologizing for our humanity. We are apologizing for our vulnerability, instead of realizing what a gift it is to be vulnerable. Tears cleanse our souls; they remind us of our humanity. Tears are gifts of the hurting heart. Being given permission to shed these tears is critically important. In giving permission, we are saying “It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to hurt.”

In the process of shedding tears, souls heal and wrong is made right. 

  • Can I bring you pizza? Or dinner, or wine, or….! Being physically cared for is the most important part of the beginning days of a crisis.
  • I can drive you. Again, this is meeting those critical first days of chaos, when thinking is blurred, and even brushing your teeth feels impossible. This is also important throughout the healing period. Driving to hospital visits, to grocery stores, to appointments….all of these add up for the person in crisis. To have someone share the driving helps share the burden.
  • I cleared my schedule so I can come sit with you at the hospital (or at the appointment, or in the court room.) Often crisis periods mean a lot of sitting. To have someone sit with you, without being restless, is a way to care for people in crisis.
  • Let me make you some tea. I admit, I come from the part of the world where tea cures everything. But you know something? It really does. Tea brings warmth and comfort. Tea brings hope and strength. While coffee tends to bring energy, tea brings calm to any situation.
  • I can pick up your kids. Another tangible, concrete expression of care.
  • You’re right, it isn’t fair. Instead of contradicting someone, and telling them that life is never fair, affirm their voice, affirm their pain. People are smart, they know when they are being irrational and unreasonable. We don’t have to contradict them and give them lectures on life.
  • It IS too much to bearSo many difficulties in life feel too big for us. They are too overwhelming, and when we are in the midst of them, we don’t think we can get through. And so we need someone to bear our burdens. I remember climbing a mountain in Pakistan when I was a teenager. I was with two of my brothers. It got to a point when I was done. It was too hard and I wanted to turn back. My older brother Tom looked at me and said, “I’ll help. We do this together.” He put his hand on the my back and literally propelled me forward. That was all I needed. We walked upward like that for a few minutes, and that was enough. I made it the rest of the way on my own. I think of that often when I think about walking with people through crisis. “We do this together, you won’t be alone” are powerful words.
  • I’m so sorry. Saying those words aloud, letting them know that you are grieving with them, sitting beside them in silence as they pour out their hearts, this is the fellowship of suffering.

In all of this, I am reminded of the kindness of Jesus.Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.*” These words from the Gospel of Matthew are beautiful.  The goal of crisis care is burden sharing. It is compassion and kindness that eases the pain, that shares the load. Jesus ends with these powerful words that offer rest and hope: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s an offer of grace in the midst of suffering.

So there we have it: In the midst of crisis, we are to offer grace. Not guilt, not lectures, not warnings, not platitudes, not self-righteous monologues – we are to offer grace. 

May we seek the heart, mind, and words of Jesus as we walk beside people in crisis.

And to you in crisis – here is a final word. 

Note: Some of these must be done in relationship. Obviously, if the kids don’t know you, then picking them up could be disastrous. But there are other things that can be done without being in a close relationship.

*Matthew 11:28-30

29 thoughts on “Giving Grace to People in Crisis – the Sequel to Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

  1. My parents were killed in a car accident. I was also going through a divorce. My friends were divided , some loyal to my husband, some loyal to me at that time. The sudden loss made me very ill for about a year. Everytime I tried to get out of bed, I would get dizzy and fall on the floor. I also had high fevers. I think my grief manifested itself in a physical way.
    At first I was overwhelmed with sympathy cards and phone calls . That lasted for about a week. Then silence for the duration of my grieving year from hell.
    I think it’s very important to realize grief is not over after the funeral. Caring people should check In with their heartbroken friend weeks and months after a tragedy instead of leaving them to suffer alone.

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  2. Marilyn, these two blogs have reinforced my sad conclusion that the God of love people say they believe in is simply not there. We need God very badly because we are afraid of – and are unable to make sense of – so much, especially death, and we think that because of that need he must be there.

    When we love someone, as in our love for our child, we will give our life for him or her with no thought whatever. We will run in front of a care to push our child to safety at the cost of our own life.

    We say God loves us, loves us unconditionally, and believe he is omnipotent. That’s the end of it right there. For if that were true, pain, loss, every kind of suffering would not exist, for God would not allow it any more than we would, do you see? If I had the ability to prevent my wife or child from suffering, I would use it. If I did not, I could not say I love them. Hence the old observation “If God is omnipotent, he does not love. If he loves, he is not omnipotent.”

    But as I type this, there are people screaming in terror and agony, drowning, falling, shooting and hanging themselves. There are parents crying over their children, there are men standing in their doorways sobbing as they watch their wives leave them. People are being beaten. Looking down the barrel of a gun or at the end of a knife as someone threatens them.

    It is not possible that these things can be real in a universe created by and watched over by a God who loves his creation. It would be the same to say the universe could contain a force that cannot be resisted and an object that cannot be moved.

    Words have the power to convince, to move mountains. But they cannot make two things exist whose existence each makes the other impossible.

    I am one who needs God so very, very badly. The world makes no sense to me. It is filled with pain in infinite shades and forms. Most men do, for certain, lead lives of quiet desperation.

    For sixty years I have asked God to let me know just two things: that he is there, and that there is a purpose to all this that so obviously, at its core, has no purpose. There has been no answer.

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  3. Both of these articles were great. I was a ‘midwife to death’, a chaplain that went to places where people were leaving this earth plain. In the beginning as a young person, yes I used these cliques. But then one elderly man in a care home who traveled the world with Barnum Baily Circus said to me: ‘This is my last whistle stop, I don’t need words, I just need you to sit on the bench next to me and let me talk’. Many a cup of coffee was handed to him. And many a stories was heard. I learned he had grown up just 8 miles north of the town I grew up in. A lone bachelor with no family left. A war veteran too. I took his words to heart as a young chaplain. Later in training for Critical Incident, Henry’s words came back to me…. Just sit on the bench next to me. I’ll even take a candy bar if you offer it to me…. simple acts of kindness demonstrate the space Grace Gives when most needed. And it’s okay to cry yourself with their pain. It shows your human and care.

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    1. I held my breath as I was reading this. This is such a lovely story – it encapsulates all of this – thank you so much for sharing. I love the phrase “a midwife to death…” I’m so honored that you came by.

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  4. We were really lucky when my dad was dying (at the age of 62, from cancer that he thought was a pulled muscle from running a 10K). Nobody said anything stupid to us; they just showed up at the hospice with food.

    On the day he died, in a hospital 35 miles from his and my mom’s hometown, where they had not lived for over 30 years, by the time my mom, my siblings, and I got to my grandmother’s house, people my dad had not seen for decades were already dropping food off. I used to laugh at scenes in books where people would take casseroles to a home where there had been a death, but now I get it. Food fills one of our most basic needs and it is one of the few things we can do to offer comfort in a crisis.

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  5. I hope a lot of people read this and take it to heart. I didn’t comment on the “stupid phrases for people in crisis” one, because it would just have all been negative and repeating the post anyway. But here, I’ve got to say that I’ve also experienced many of these. Very specifically, the day my husband had a massive heart attack, close friends didn’t ask WHAT they could do, they INFORMED me they were on the way to the hospital to be with me, they stayed with me, and they drove me to the next city while my husband was taken by ambulance, and once he was stable, they took me to lunch. Two days later, someone else, not someone I even knew well, organized childcare for all my children so I could spend the day at the hospital. A lot of people said, “Let me know if you need anything,” but I couldn’t handle answering that. What I needed, and got, was people just DOING.

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  6. Sometimes people want to feel that they are a good person, and ask the other person “What is wrong? Are you okay? etc.” without considering that the person in need might be trying to hold themselves together, especially in public, and that pushing them until they cry isn’t helping that person in need, so much as it is making the asker feel better that they asked. I really like how the article suggests doing practical things to help, and just being present with the other person.

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  7. When my husband passed away 5 years ago, all my friends disappeared. After the funeral, they didn’t call, they didn’t visit; particularly my married friends. I guess they didn’t know what to do. What people who lose loved ones really need is someone to talk to. We don’t need “I am very sorry for your loss”. That just puts the emphasis on the one who is grieving and I used to fight back the tears when anybody said that. But I very much wanted to talk about my husband, to share precious memories. In the end, it was other widows who came to my aid. They knew what I needed and I have gained some amazing friends. Christians don’t seem to know what to do in a crisis any more than anyone else, and they certainly do use all those stupid phrases mentioned in your other blog. I loved both your blogs, very sensible and helpful.

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    1. Margaret Carlisle, it’s not only “The Christians” that don’t know what to say or do, it’s the community and all religions as a whole. We are not taught how to be kind to those in need, we are not taught what to do. I am sadly now learning how to be a better person. Sending in 1 meal is nice, but it’s not enough. I had higher expectations from many. Yes, please offer to take my dog out, leave a meal in the frig, put fresh sheets on my bed, make me a cup of tea and stare into space with me. Yes, I need all of this! As my husband fights stage IV cancer my friends are scarce. I get the occasional phone call and the “I’m sorry’s”, that doesn’t help the loneliness, the fear, the pain. I know my husband isn’t going to be present in years to come and I’m preparing myself to be alone and lonely. The last paragraph mentions Jesus, as a Jew and a caregiver, Jesus is not in my life. I am weary, I am burden. Know one can take this pain away, but people may help. i’m not a religious person and if someone wants to pray for us, that is fine, but I would prefer physical beings,a warm hug and hot cup of tea.

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      1. Lost a husband in 2004, married again in 2014, lost him in 2015, as well as a son in 2015, now in crisis again with a seriously ill grandson. I just KOKO (keep on keeping on.) Good days and bad. I have immense faith and awesome church family. I just say God is not done with me yet, He has something else for me to do and I am ready and willing.

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  8. My wife passed away several years ago from breast cancer. I lost 60 pounds following her passing, down from 175 to 115. What could of helped me more than anything was to have meals brought over by neighbors or to be invited over to others homes for an occasional dinner. Just saying . . .

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    1. John, I am so sorry to hear of your wife’s passing, and your extended time of grieving. And, especially of your weight loss. I am not sure about your specific situation, but sometimes people are shy of intruding. (I know it’s a lame excuse, but it’s true, at times.) I hope that now you have a few people you can talk with, about being alone and about life, in general. Blessings to you, friend.

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    1. Thank you for that. I am not alone. I’m sure that most people who say the wrong things, never meant to harm. I need to try and accept some grace.

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  9. I agree with most of what you are saying. However as a single father who went through the crises of losing a child. I don’t think that men receive these types of words the same as woman do. I personally was not willing to tell someone when I needed help, even if they asked. However when people just showed up and sat with me or made me something to eat, I was very appreciative to have the company.

    I think we need to remember that men suffer just as much as women, with these types of tragedies. But we think and operate much differently. We have to be understanding of those differences and adjust accordingly in our mission to help.

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  10. Love this….
    I think that we often want to help, but truly do NOT know what to say and in our attempts to be friendly, we tend to respond like we are still in kindergarten, and say something like, “I heard what happened and I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.” And really, that is the truth of our feelings…and it may take time to get beyond those surface feelings to the compassion God gives us for others. If we stop and think about it, we may get to a point where we can be truly helpful…and this post gives us some ideas that will be more helpful to those we care for…and your prevailing point–giving grace will help us to better show God’s love to those around us. And really, what better gift than to come along side of someone, point them to Christ, and offer a human touch of care during a hard time…yeah, this!

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  11. Marilyn, thanks! These articles are so good. It’s not like it’s rocket science, but we drag our feet and fear too much to be intrusive. Maybe we need some heart-yielded intrusion sometimes. Thanks for writing…and also that piece on the fellowship of suffering…wow!

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  12. This is beautiful and tear-inducing. And so, so true. Having that person who will sit with you = amazing. My best friend did that for me the morning we learned my father in law had cancer. She wasn’t yet my best friend, we were in the getting to know each other stages, but she was the first safe person I thought of, and I asked her to come, and she CAME. She brought her kids, whom she homeschooled, and she told them on the way, this is one of the reasons we lead this flexible homeschooling lifestyle, so we can help people in times of need. I really needed that on that day.

    And yes — thank you for reminding me I can tell others it’s ok to cry. I’ve been guilty of apologizing for it myself. But now I know I can tell others it’s ok, when they cry. Which I’ve never thought of before.

    Will be saving this for my month’s wrap up :)

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  13. Thanks so much for the follow-up post! Such helpful, hopeful words for people going through challenging times, Marilyn. And, for loved ones who are standing (or sitting) next to the persons in pain. Regardless of what the pain is, whether physical, emotional, relational, psychological, spiritual, or all of the above, your suggestions go a long way toward showing hurting people that others care, and are there for them.

    I have a few things to say about the last suggestion you made: ” letting them know that you are grieving with them, sitting beside them in silence as they pour out their hearts,” There are just a couple of people in my life who can truly listen, and deeply hear. When I am with them, I _know_ I have been heard, and accepted, and loved. That is healing, and encouraging, and nurturing to me–deep down, inside. Whether I’m sick or hurt or wounded in some other way, I feel helped. Deep down. And, I try my best to do that for others, to be there for them, to listen to them, and–if asked–to pray for them. (And, of course, if they need any of the other things on your list, I’m ready to do those, too!) @chaplaineliza

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