When Cliches Just Make Things Worse

Feb 24, 2016Find joy today

I am going through a wilderness season right now, one of those dark places you don’t know when the light will dawn, or how long the thick woods will conceal the sun. Something about that stripping makes me too raw for cliche, too worn for platitudes.

“It’ll be fine. God will work it out.” But what if He doesn’t?

“Oh don’t worry, it will happen soon.” But it might not! Then what?

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” But what if it’s something?

“God won’t give you more than you can bear.” But that’s a promise about temptation, not about life. It was more than I could bear in France. Far more. I’m sure Job felt what he went through was more than he could bear. Paul recognized it too: “When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Sounds pretty honest–with no rest, plenty of conflict, and a heapload of fear.
I’m pretty sure we throw cliche and platitude when we don’t want to engage with someone else’s pain. (I have done this too). If we stop and listen, or even offer a prayer in the moment, we have to admit that our world is a fallen place, with fallen people doing fallen things. Some would prefer to push away all that nastiness and live as if the world made sense.

But sometimes it doesn’t. I have friends walking difficult journeys that don’t look like a pretty Pinterest quote:

Sometimes your child’s cancer comes back.

Sometimes your spouse passes into the arms of Jesus suddenly.

Sometimes your world upends in a week.

Sometimes you lose a job unexpectedly.

Sometimes that spot comes back from the lab with disquieting news.

And when you find yourself in some of those “sometimes,” the injury or trauma worsens when someone dismisses it, or throws a Jesus juke your way.

So what are we to do when our friend’s life has crumbled?

Sit with your friend. Listen. Offer a prayer. Cry alongside.

Don’t say, “Hey, let me know when you need something” because that means very little to a grieving, distraught person. That person who is in a mental fog has no idea how to even ask for help. Instead, pray, discerning what the friend needs, then meet the need tangibly. Bring a meal. Drop off flowers. Give a gift card. Set up a meals calendar.

I write this to inform myself because I’m sure I’ve said those words. “Let me know if you need something.”

I don’t write this to point the finger at you, but to remind myself of this time when the world spins on a catty-corner axis. Remember this, Mary. Remember how it made you feel when cliches were tossed your way like uninflated life preservers. REMEMBER. Because when my friends face uncertainty, illness, financial stress, catastrophe, I want to offer genuine, in-the-moment help.

All that to say, maybe this time of darkness and pressing is about my sanctification, about making me more empathetic, more tangible in the way I love those who suffer. I hope so. I hope this time will = fruit someday, just my traumatic time in France still reaps spiritual fruit today–thanks to Jesus and to really good friends who offered true, tangible, non-cliche help to this struggling pilgrim.

What about you? What cliches have you heard? When has someone truly helped you walk through pain or grief?


  1. Cindy in PA

    Such a timely post and also hearing the podcast with The Meissners. I had breakfast with a couple friends 4 weeks ago and didn’t go into a lot of detail but told them that life sometimes sucks and I am in that period now. At the end of breakfast one asked how she could pray for me and I asked for them to pray for peace for me.

    I was then peppered with questions: Am I going to church? Am I focusing on God?

    I left very angry and let me tell you that I didn’t feel better when one sent a survey for me to take to determine if I am an enabler, then an email about how a butterfly must emerge from the chrysalis without help.

    Cliches don’t help…trying to fix me doesn’t help. Prayers would help. Amen.

    • Mary DeMuth

      OH MY GOODNESS NO. Why do we judge so much when someone is simply hurting? I’m sorry this happened to you!

  2. Krista

    The dreaded dark times. Oh how I hate them. I know I’ve grown in maturity and wisdom through every dark time but I’m tired. Where I haven’t grown (I believe) is in endurance. I just don’t feel I have the stamina I once had to stand up under the pressure of the dark times. I’m weary.

    Is I’m sorry a platitude? Because dear Mary, I am so very sorry you are walking down this road. I’m sorry this is part of your journey. Sometimes I just have to wonder when is enough enough Lord? Why must your beloved suffer so? What part of this experience is “abundant living?”

    Is this a selfish prayer because if so, count me as selfish today: Lord, we cry out to you for mercy! Rescue us! Put us on a peaceful, smooth path that is without obstacles or pitfalls for we are bone weary. Even if only for a season. In the name of our precious Savior, your Son, Jesus we pray. Amen.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I hear you about TIRED, Krista.

      I’m sorry is not a platitude. It recognizes the pain of the situation!

      • Sue

        Mary, I have had a secret hurt that I’ve only shared
        with my sister.She has always had compassion and
        has never tried to tell me I’m
        wrong to feel the way I do. Just her listening has helped.
        That’s why I feel safe with her. We are close in age and
        have always been each others best friend. I am
        a born-again Christian woman and I
        love God with all my heart. But I’ve always felt that
        some things in my life have not been resolved and
        that makes it harder to “just get
        over it”. (Don’t you love it when someone says that?)
        Remember Job’s friends were a comfort to him until
        they opened their mouths.The last thing he needed
        was someone telling him what he was doing wrong
        (or what they THOUGHT he was doing wrong).
        The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
        Other than that, really listening
        and praying for the person is the right way to respond.

  3. SP

    Thank you for speaking to this issue, Mary. I have been in a place of great brokenness through out much trauma in my life and have also spoken how often and easy spiritual cliches are thrown out without true compassion or desire to understand. I have also found how even a brief moment of real compassion and empathy, even by a stranger, can touch the heart.

    Sometimes well meaning and not so well meaning people in the church think of well rehearsed scriptures to whip out, when instead of rules or condemnation, one just needs a big hug and a reminder they are loved and not forgotten to keep pushing forward.

    I pray for unique reassurances of His love for you, Mary. I ask that He bring specially creative reminders through out the days that will speak to the cry of your heart and show He is working behind the scenes where things look dark. Thank you for being a blessing to the broken, even in your own times of brokenness. <3

    • Mary DeMuth

      I do agree about a stranger’s brief kindness. That reminds me to be kind, even during this time when my world’s upside down.

  4. LindseyBell

    Yes. All of this. I just finished reading Finding God in the Ruins by Matt Bays, and he talked a lot about this type of thing too. Sometimes, there really isn’t a need to say anything. And if you’re going to say something, maybe just say, “That sucks” or “I’m so sorry.” Nothing else is really necessary or helpful.

    • Mary DeMuth

      True. Well said.