As I have battled anxiety, particularly within the past couple of years I have found a common theme- well-meaning people saying things like “stop worrying you have nothing to worry about.” Or “stop worrying, it’s going to be okay.” I know that those things are true. I know that I’m not supposed to worry, I know that I’m incredibly blessed and comparatively I have nothing to worry about. I know that it’s going to be okay, but in those dark moments it doesn’t feel like it. Please stop saying those things to people who battle anxiety; even though that person likely knows that it’s going to be okay it doesn’t FEEL like it’s going to be okay in that moment. I don’t want someone to remind me of some cliché that God loves me and because of that everything will be fine. I want someone to speak truth into my life. I want someone to say, “Life sucks, but even when you are facing some of the suckiest moments you will face God is there. Even in the moments when you don’t feel worthy of being loved, you are. Romans 8:37-39 says that nothing can separate you from that love.” Hearing someone say that is more real and honest.
When you say things like “stop worrying” or “it’s going to be okay,” you likely aren’t listening long enough or well enough to help the person heal. So many people are searching for the perfect thing to say to those who are grieving or battling mental illness, but oftentimes you don’t need to say anything; oftentimes you just need to listen and physically be there. When I would be in the midst of panic attacks, I yearned for someone to physically be there, not because I wanted them to word vomit things to make them feel like they attempted to help, but because I wanted them to hug me and hold my hand and pray for me. Just being with a person and letting them tell you what would help them most speaks volumes, because it means you are there for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with someone who had just lost a job or they were freaking out about something or they were depressed and they would apologize for not being fun to be around. When someone apologizes for struggling and being human, don’t let them apologize. Honestly, don’t say “it’s okay” or “I forgive you”; the people that I feel safest with in this regard are the ones who say “don’t be sorry” because I know that they don’t just tolerate when I’m struggling. They love me even when I am far from lovely. I’m not talking about the emotion love; I’m talking about the action love.
James 1:19 tells us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” This passage focuses on avoiding evil by actually doing what the word of God says, and if you want to look more into that I highly recommend that you do – it’s James 1:19-27. When we take a closer look at why we word vomit on those who are hurting, we find that oftentimes it’s because we feel uncomfortable, so we selfishly fill the silence to make ourselves feel less uncomfortable. It’s not for the other person; it’s for us, and sure that’s not nearly as obvious as the selfishness of someone who has a plethora of riches and is unwilling to share it with the less fortunate, but it is self-serving all the same. When we are so focused on our personal comfort in difficult situations where we don’t know what to do we miss opportunities to show others that they are valued and loved. We miss opportunities to listen to those who feel like no one cares to actually listen.
Honestly, the best thing I can encourage you to do is to look into this concept for yourself. The book of James is a great place to start if you want a biblical view of how to show others you care about them. The main thing to get from James is that we need to be doers of the word, because when your life is changed by the grace of Christ, you are going to do things differently; it’s just human nature. When something life-changing happens, be it coming to Christ or having a baby, we act differently. One of the best ways you can be a doer of the word is by being slow to speak and quick to listen when you are with someone who is hurting. Please don’t say to me “it’s going to be okay.” Please do sit with me, listen to me, cry with me, compassionately take my hurt and burden to Jesus in prayer. Please do any or all of those things in place of awkwardly saying to me, “stop freaking out. You’re going to be okay.” Doing those things shows that you love both Jesus and the person you are comforting much more clearly than simply saying to them “it’s going to be okay”.