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21 Things Not to Say to a Hurting Friend

9. “You must feel glad that where your son is now”—in a semi-vegetative state—“he can no longer sin!”

You know, the ability to sin is not the worst thing in the world. The inability to sin (or anything else!) at all is far, far worse.

10. (In response to Mary’s saying she was exhausted from the 24/7 routine of caring for Seth, including rising in the middle of the night, every night, someone said:) “Well, you know, it’s not such a big deal. Lots of people who have newborn babies at home have to do the same thing.”

There are times when we do well just to keep our mouths shut and say nothing. Clearly, this was one of those times for a friend of the Esvelt family. Sadly, he/she chose not to take that precious opportunity.

11. “I would like to pay to have (a certain faith healer) come and pray over your son. I’m confident that would heal him. In the meantime, here is a stack of that preacher’s materials to look over.”

At what point does a parent violate their own beliefs and convictions in order to be willing to do anything that would bless their needy child? When I was dealing with my own bout with cancer (2004/2005) and people would say they were praying for me, “Even though we’re not of the same religion,” I would half-seriously reply that “I’m accepting all prayers.” That’s one thing. But welcoming into your home a so-called “faith healer” is another altogether.

12. “If your son would just stop raging in his heart against God, then God would be free to heal him.”

Holly replies (at least in her heart), “Now, how do you know what a guy in a coma is thinking?”

This one makes me angry. I think at this point I would have shown the visitor the door and ordered them off my property. Enough is enough. And, as Jerry Lewis used to say, “And too much is plenty!”

13. “I know your brother is going to wake up! People wake up from comas all the time. I saw it on television last week!”

Holly wishes she had a nickel for every time someone has thrown that one their way. She thinks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if real life always resolved itself at the end of a 30-minute time slot, just like on television.”

14. “We want to be your family. We want to be there for you, every week. Twice a week if you need it.”

The people who said that never returned or even inquired as to how Seth and the family were doing.

15. “You know, it’s been seven years. You really need to get over this and move on.”

That’s pretty hard to do when your loved one is lying in the next room, requiring 24/7 personal care.

16. “I want to come visit your son, but I just can’t. You see, I don’t do well in hospitals.” Or, this variation: “I just can’t handle seeing him like this. I want to remember him the way he was.”

What goes through your mind on hearing this is: “Maybe you need to get over yourself, friend. Think of what it must be like to be in his condition. Think how much it might mean to him to hear the voice of a friend.”

17. “I know how you feel.” “I know what you’re going through.”

Answer: No, you don’t. The only person who knows is one who has been there themselves.

18. “We’re on our way home from a workshop on faith healing, and we’d like to stop by and pray over your brother!”

This couple left with a rather disappointed air when the new techniques they had learned failed to work.

19. “The other night, we stopped by the hospital after everyone was gone. I prayed healing over your brother, called him forth and said, ‘Young man, arise!’”

They seemed to feel a certain satisfaction over having done this. One wonders why, since Seth continued to lie there.

20. “I want to come and pray for your son.” “I want to come and minister to you.”

They stayed an additional three hours during which time they talked about themselves, their kids’ activities, politics and last Friday night’s football game.

Holly observes, “People like this genuinely believe they mean it when they say they want to come pray for you and/or minister to you. But what they really mean is they want to sit and have someone listen to them talk all afternoon.”

Such people leave thinking—as a family member actually heard a woman say in church one day—“Wow, I really ministered to them today! It must have been such a bright spot in their sad situation, to hear my cheerful, fascinating conversation.”

On another occasion, a woman who was known for staying all day became insulted and then rude when the family declined her offer to visit the hospital in a time of crisis.

Holly notes, “Here is a hint for anyone who is considering visiting a sick friend or one in a crisis: Unless you are specifically asked otherwise, limit your visit to a half hour at the most. They have enough to deal with without having to pretend all afternoon to be interested in what your kids are doing.”

Holly says a half-hour. I’d say more like 10 or 15 minutes max. I’m recalling walking into a hospital room where a man from the church sat visiting the patient, also a member of our church. When he got up to leave, I said, “Hey, don’t let me rush you off.” He protested that I wasn’t, that it was time to leave. After the door closed behind him, the patient said, “Preacher, I’m so glad you came. He’s been here a solid hour.” On another occasion, a patient told me, “Pastor, don’t tell the church I’m in here. They’ll visit me to death. I’d like some quiet.”

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.