February 17, 2019
Words of Comfort by Lynn Dove
I opened the card and smiled. It was meant to cheer me, and it did. Her words of comfort, wishing me a speedy recovery while I was still battling a nasty cough and cold, instantly warmed my spirit. No, they did not cure my cold but the card and the sentiment inside it was like a soothing balm to my aching body. I chugged back another cup of tea and placed the card in a prominent place so I could look at it repeatedly during my healing process.
How often have I received an email, or a hand-written note, or a text message that has imprinted itself on my heart when I most needed encouragement? Some say hand-written notes in particular are going by the way of the dinosaur. So few take the time now to choose a card and write a few lines in it, but I say it's time for that art form to make a come back!
"I don't know what to say to her." She confessed to me. I understood her entirely. How do we bring comfort to those who are grieving? How do we encourage and support a family who has just learned their thirteen year old daughter has leukemia? What words of wisdom can we give to spur those on who are struggling?
A man I know is battling stomach cancer and a page for him was set up on Facebook for friends to get updates on his condition and to join in specific prayer for him. Reading through the comments posted awhile ago, I have to admit that some people, even though they may have good intentions, do not necessarily comfort with their words. Cheeky Gifs and friendly emojis that are supposed to cheer, seem insincere. Giving advice and questioning the medical treatments is totally inappropriate. "Name it and claim it" prayers are unnerving, not to mention one person who had the audacity to say that sin (past or present) may be the reason for the cancer diagnosis in the first place. I throw up my hands in disgust and want to scream.
As a writer, I am very conscious how my reader is analyzing, interpreting, understanding and internalizing my message. My words need to express my meaning sincerely and succinctly. A reader can spot a phony. A reader can sense when a writer is not being honest or authentic. A reader can weed out platitudes. The same is equally true when writing an encouraging note to someone who is going through a hard time. The message and meaning of my words will impact the reader and it will either bring comfort or more grief to the recipient if I do not choose my words carefully.
Having gone through cancer myself, I feel somewhat qualified to give some advice on what words you can write, share, or specific, practical actions you can take that will bring comfort to a person (and their family) during a time of intense struggle.
1. It is always appropriate to write that you are praying for them and ask them for some specific prayer requests. Then pray! Don't just say you'll pray, do it!
2. It is appropriate to say that you are there for them if they need anything. Again, if you say you are there for them, be there! It means putting your money where your mouth is. Don't say they can call on you if they need anything and then not respond when they actually call.
3. Don't hesitate to acknowledge that what they are going through is hard. Avoiding the elephant in the room is not necessary. They need to know that in spite of this difficult journey ahead for them, you are with them every step of the way.
4. As they battle, acknowledge their strength, fortitude, courage and tenacity. Send Scripture but make sure it's appropriate for the situation. Context is king here too.
5. Rejoice with them over small victories won. (On the day of my last chemo treatment, I came home and found a huge poster taped to my front door with the words: "Yay! You did it!" One of my friends at church had marked that milestone for me in a way I still remember fondly to this day.)
6. Don't stop praying, writing, and encouraging a person even after the battle may be over. There is much fear and trepidation after a cancer diagnosis. People who are grieving the loss of a loved one, still grieve years later.
Remember gentle writer, oftentimes it IS the thought that counts and not necessarily the right words. If you write from the heart, asking the Lord to guide you as you write, the recipient who receives those words will be comforted!
Lynn Dove is the award-winning author, of the YA “Wounded Trilogy”- a contemporary Christian fiction series with coming-of-age themes. A wife, mom, grandmother, and free-lance writer with articles published in several magazines and anthologies including Chicken Soup for the Soul books, her blog, “Journey Thoughts” is a Canadian Christian Writing Award winner. Readers may connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and at lynndove.com