Why You Shouldn’t Say “Everything Happens for a Reason” to Someone Going Through a Tough Time (And What to Do Instead)

We all know people who are going through a divorce, a spouse is dying of cancer, or they’ve lost their job.

Because it’s really awkward and we don’t know what to say or do, we often make two errors –

 a) we do nothing because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing, or

 b) we say things that are well intentioned but not helpful.   

Like, “Everything happens for a reason”, or “These things come to teach us lessons”.

What’s wrong with saying “Everything happens for a reason”?

First of all, there isn’t always a reason for things happening, nor a lesson. Sometimes it’s just life and it sucks. (That doesn’t mean that God can’t turn that bad situation around for good, though.)

Second, saying things like, “It will all work out in the end”, or “Is there something you did to bring this upon yourself?” can be hurtful and frustrating to someone in the middle of a hellish trial.

They don’t need cute little sayings or a guilt trip, they need support, because what they are going through right now is very real!  

How you can help someone who is suffering, hurting, or overwhelmed by life’s challenges:

Be real. Acknowledge that you don’t know what to say or do, but you would like to help them. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to say the right thing, but it’s perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.”  

Acknowledge their pain. Recognise their struggle as real, and acknowledge their feelings. Instead of saying, “Oh, no, you guys are such a great couple. I’m sure everything will be fine.” Say, “Wow, I’m sorry to hear you guys are going through a rough patch. This must be really hard for you.” Let them know it’s OK not to be OK.

Avoid saying “at least”. It generally isn’t empathetic. Here’s an example: “We’re getting divorced.” “Well, at least you still have your house (or kids or whatever).” Ugh! The person is in pain and having their house doesn’t substitute for a broken marriage! Cut this one out of your vocab.

Avoid giving advice unless you’re asked for it. When you give advice you are communicating what the other person should do instead of giving them space to discuss how they feel. Giving advice often shuts down the conversation because the person does not feel heard. Don’t tell a story about your aunt’s cousin’s husband’s brother who went through the same thing and survived. This will minimise their issue and is not helpful.

Ask them what you can do for them. How can you support them? Offer to shop for them, houseclean, cook meals, babysit their kids, take them out for a day, or just sit and listen to them.

Pray with them and for them. God knows exactly how to bring comfort and sometimes just praying for someone can mean so much.  

Just be there.  Check in regularly. Let the person know you are thinking of them and that you are available if they need to talk. Listen well when they do talk – make eye contact and avoid distractions. Don’t listen to reply. Just listen!

Does this mean that you should never give advice, never help someone get outside of their trial and see the bigger picture? No. Sometimes people need help getting out of the rut of only seeing the negative in their situation.

But, follow this rule:

Before you give advice, give sympathy and comfort.  

Once you have proved that you are genuinely interested in the person and how they feel, they will be open to your advice and you can turn their attention to the promises in the Bible.  

 What has helped you get through a tough time? How have you helped someone else through a tough time?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ntosh | 1st Aug 19

    Wow thank you so much ,This will help me because I sometimes dont know what to say and try and avoid them but pray for them instead of being there for them and understanding how they feel,especially to people close to me .

    • Jenny | 1st Aug 19

      It’s something we all struggle with isn’t it!

  2. 3 Ways to Help Someone Who Uses You as a Dumping Ground – Love More to Live | 7th Aug 19

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