“Be Happy” is the Worst Thing to Say to a Hurting Friend

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There are some things we should never say to a hurting friend and some things we should do and say if we really want to help. #Grief #Sadness #WWGGG #BeHappy #CountingMyBlessings #Friendship #MondayMotivation

Last week, I wrote about God’s desire for us to be happy. Not simply momentary pleasure but true and lasting happiness.

Happiness that…

  • Trusts God is greater than our circumstances.
  • Knows our sins are forgiven.
  • Comes from wisdom that is able to guide us and keep us safe.
  • Gives the peace that comes from obedience.
  • Celebrates the joy experienced through praise and worship.
  • Has relationships blessed by truth and kindness.
  • Is found in spending time with the Lord.
  • Embraces the promise of a beautiful forever future.
  • Comes in knowing God will meet every need.
  • Enjoys freedom from fear.
  • Is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I believe that’s the kind of happiness God wants for me.

And it is what I want!


The truth is—life is hard and bad things happen. You and I will experience sadness, pain, and loss. And it’s hard, in fact, it can seem impossible to be happy under those circumstances.

I had a reader leave an excellent comment/question on Friday.

She said that although she agreed and understood the Biblical principles I was sharing about the happiness God wants for us, she struggled with the following:

I don’t understand how to explain it to people when they ask me. When they say, “what good is praying going to do, or being happy?” Or when they ask, “how is it going to help me now?” Will it heal them? Bring their child back?

I’m very perplexed about this … knowing what to do or say.

I’m so thankful she asked and opened up that conversation because I believe it’s a struggle common to almost everyone.

That’s why today, I want to talk about why…

“Be Happy” is the Worst Thing to Say to a Hurting Friend

I started reading the Book of Job over the weekend.

We all know Job’s friends are the perfect example of what NOT to say to a grieving or hurting friend. Although they had good intentions and they started out by simply being present which was perfect, they quickly turned to judgment and advice rather than patient compassion.

We know not to follow their bad example.

There are some things we should never say to a hurting friend and some things we should do and say if we really want to help. #Grief #Sadness #WWGGG #BeHappy #CountingMyBlessings #Friendship #MondayMotivation

We know what not to say to a hurting friend…

  • You must have sinned.
  • This too will pass.
  • I know how you feel.
  • If you’d just do “this” you’ll feel better.
  • God wants you to BE HAPPY!

It didn’t work for Job’s friends and it won’t work for us either.

I remember a time when I was struggling with a deep sadness over difficult circumstances that seemed to go on and on. When I finally shared my feelings with a couple of friends, one shook her finger at me and said, “Shame on you. You should count the blessings God has given you.” And the other told me what I needed to do to fix it because to quote her, “You’re not fun anymore.”

Although their comments may have been true neither changed my feelings but they did hurt my already hurting heart.

The truth is there are no easy answers to the questions…

“What good is praying going to do, or being happy?” Or when they ask, “how is it going to help me now?” Will it heal them? Bring their child back?

There is nothing to say that will magically flip the switch on their feelings and I don’t think there is supposed to be.

The Life Application Bible Notes say the following about Job’s feelings:

God created our emotions, and it is not sinful or inappropriate to express them as Job did. If you have experienced a deep loss, a disappointment, or a heartbreak, admit your feelings to yourself and others, and grieve.

That’s good advice and something for us to remember for our personal moments of grief and for times when we want to help a friend.

Now that we know what not to do; it’s important to take a look at what we should do by taking a closer look at how Jesus cared for people who were sad and grieving…

What Jesus Did Do For and Say to a Hurting Friend?

Jesus was present.

Verse after verse in the Gospels explain how Jesus was simply present with people.

I love this…

Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with His disciples around Him.

John 6:3

He was with people – the broken, flawed, sick, and hurting. Jesus spent time with hurting people … loving them and caring for them.

Jesus was compassionate.

Compassion begins when we care about what happens to people. When we make an effort to love them as Jesus loved them.

Jesus saw the huge crowd as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Mark 6:34

Jesus cried.

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled. 

Then Jesus wept. 

John 11:33,35

Jesus hates death! He hates the suffering and grief you and I experience. I am so thankful for His example to cry with those who are crying.

Paul wrote…

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

Most often, affirming someone’s feelings and loving them through their pain is the best thing you and I can do for them.

Jesus prayed.

I love that Jesus gave us the example of getting away to pray. I can only imagine what those conversations were like between the Father and Son.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35

Jesus did what He could do.

Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, forgave sins, and helped the oppressed.

He took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd.

Matthew 15:36

You and I may not be able to heal someone’s illness or remove their pain but we can forgive them, feed them, and help them.

We can do what we are able to do and surrender the rest to God in prayer … asking Him to do what only He can do.

And what He does is give the strength that is needed to get through each day. Ultimately, He is the One who is able to heal their hearts and restore their happiness.

There are some things we should never say to a hurting friend and some things we should do and say if we really want to help. #Grief #Sadness #WWGGG #BeHappy #CountingMyBlessings #Friendship #MondayMotivation

One last thing you and I can do…

At some point, we share our stories of weakness and pain. And when asked how we go through it … we talk about the way God has worked in our lives which is way different than telling people how He should be working in theirs.

Rather than explaining to someone that God wants them to be happy, to be strong, or to have hope. We live our lives in ways that demonstrate His all-sufficient grace.

And again, when asked … we share our stories of God’s strength and healing. We tell people how He restored our joy after a time when we thought we’d never be happy again. We speak of the hope we have in Him to meet our needs because of all He’s gotten us through in the past.

Jesus said…

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.

John 16:33

He knew!

Jesus cared so much about our pain and suffering that He lived among us and experienced it Himself.

He understands our emotions. He gave them to us. He lived them alongside us. And by His example, we can learn how to not only live with our emotions but how to love others as they live with theirs.

So, although God wants us to be happy and gives us what we need to live happy … He also knows that – here on earth we will have many trials and sorrows.

We will have pain. Our friends will have pain. And “be happy” is not the message that will heal our hurting hearts.

But our presence, our compassion, our shared tears, our prayers, and our acts of kindness and service may just be the things that God will use to begin to restore hope and happiness in a hurting friend.

That’s love, isn’t it?
That’s the Golden Rule…

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

That’s the love of God in us giving us everything we need to love the people around us.

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  1. Just being present with a hurting friend or family member speaks volumes to their hearts. We cannot “will” happiness on someone else, nor should we try to do so. Healing takes time, as I know from personal experience, and the greatest gift we can give to another is granting them that time and space to let God heal them
    Blessings, Deb, and as always, thank you for your wisdom!

    1. You’re so right, Martha! I’m a talker … so I have to remind myself to just be still and love by letting people be real with their emotions, even when they’re sad. Blessings, my friend!

  2. When we want a friend to snap out of it, it’s more about us not wanting to be pulled down or experience pain than it is about encouraging them. It seems like the right thing to do in the moment, but it’s actually very self-centered and short-sighted. And I love your thought to consider the golden rule, Deb. If we wouldn’t want that kind of response, we sure shouldn’t give it! Pinning and tweeting!

    1. What a great point, Beth! I agree! When we care about someone we don’t want them to be sad for them but also as my friend said to me … “your not fun anymore.” That was certainly more about her than it was about me. It’s a good reminder when someone I love hurts. I’m just called to love them not to fix them. Thanks so much! God bless you, my friend!

  3. Donna E Bozza says:

    Thank you for this amazingly helpful piece. I have saved it on my computer and also printed it out to place in my Bible. I have always doubted what the right thing to say/do to a hurting person especially when they are experiencing a deep loss. The fallback position is to stay away out of our own awkwardness – then feel guilty. THIS is love in action.

    1. Donna, thank you so much! I am so very glad you found it helpful. Your encouragement is truly a blessing! Praying you are blessed with a beautiful day!

  4. Carlene Allen says:

    I am in the midst of a struggle. Thank you for your uplifting words. I am beginning to start a morning routine with God. It’s hard to find the right scriptures or devotions. Today’s your scriptures were sent from God. Have a blessed day.
    From a very cold heart????
    at -15 below in Alaska.

    1. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know. It’s cold and icy here in Missouri today as well but not 15 below! Stay warm and be blessed!

  5. Calvonia Radford says:

    My son who is a PK and a pastor was so irritated by church folk who said all the “right” things to him when my mother passed suddenly. For instance, “God knows what’s best”, “She’s in a better place now”. We mean well, but following Jesus example is best. Be present. Provide resources from our well of supply. Pray blessings for and with them. Let God do the rest.

    1. Calvonia, I know people believe they are trying to help but those kinds of comments really just add to our pain. We can’t fix, and we’re not supposed to fix, that which only God is able to transform and heal. Leaning on Jesus and inviting people to join us … is the best way to truly help. God bless you, your family, and your ministry.

  6. Cassie Creley says:

    I really appreciated this post. I’m so sorry to hear that your reaching out to others was met with such a lack of compassion. I love the examples you share of how Jesus responds to the hurting. So beautiful!
    I was just talking with two friends (we all have chronic health conditions) about the huge difference between being told “Be happy!” and being given space to deal with our feelings while being gently reminded that God’s presence and joy is available in spite of your circumstances.

    1. I love that, Cassie! You are right. Sharing with others how we are thankful for the times God has held us close and reminded us of His presence when we were struggling is the best way to invite them to SEEK Him in their pain. He is the One who is able to change hearts and minds … the One who restores our happiness. Thanks again and God bless you!

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