“Oh, my grandmother had that kind of cancer—she didn’t last long.”
“My neighbor has what you have—he’s in so much pain.”
“I thought you’d be over this grieving by now.”
Heard any such insensitive (dare I say “stupid”) remarks? I think I’ve heard them all and then some.
I remember bumping into a church friend at the grocery store shortly after I my cancer diagnosis in 1990. She apologized for not being in touch with me.
“I thought I heard you were going to die. I didn’t know if that was true, so I just didn’t know what to do,” she quickly spit out.
She kept babbling for a while, and I remember I ended up trying to comfort her in the fresh vegetable aisle.
I think relatives, friends, and acquaintances are usually at a loss for words when they hear about someone’s diagnosis or recurrence, so they say something to either a.) try to identify with the person or b.) try to lift their spirits. Often they succeed with neither, especially when they immediately begin spouting Bible verses.
Someone started quoting scripture to my western New York friend Ken just moments after he was given the devastating news of tongue cancer requiring life-altering surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
“I only heard the first few words and wanted to scream at my friend, ‘Stop! Just stop!’” Ken still recalls 19 cancer-free years later.
I’m willing to bet you can remember some not-very-helpful comments made to you or your loved one. How do we handle such insensitivity?
I like the advice attributed to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt: “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”
Do you think my friend at the grocery store saw me standing by the romaine lettuce and thought, “I’ll walk over to Lynn and say something that will make her feel really bad?”
Of course not. I’m sure her heart was feeling love for me and concern over my well-being, however poorly she expressed it. And the same was surely true for Ken’s Bible-quoting friend.
Think about the last life-struggle conversation you had with someone that left you feeling worse instead of better. Ask yourself whether you think that was the person’s intention. If yes, I recommend you speak with someone who can help you establish healthy boundaries with a spiteful person!
But if you answered no, then ignore that person’s words and just hear his or her heart for you.
We always want people to give us the benefit of the doubt or cut us some slack, but we have to admit, it’s not always easy to do the same for others—especially when our world has been rocked by a life-altering event. Our emotions are fragile, our bodies are hurting, and our spirits can be wounded easily. That makes it hard to be patient with well-meaning but insensitive folks.
So if you want to find peace in the face of life’s difficulties, use your head to handle yourself and your heart to handle others. And most of all, keep both your heart and mind open to receive the Lord’s perfect peace.
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart.
And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.
So don’t be troubled or afraid. –Jesus speaking in John 14:27
Be sure to open in your browser to hear the music video “Perfect Peace” by Laura Story