Top 5 Worst Religious Clichés for People in Pain - Kate Bowler

Complicated Grief and Complicated Love with

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Top 5 Worst Religious Clichés for People in Pain

Next time you need a good smirk, stop by the greeting card aisle at the grocery store. Skip the gigantic cards that belt “PARTY LIKE A ROCKSTAR!” when they open, pass by the blank cards decorated with ocean waves and tree frogs and find yourself the “Religious Sympathy” section. Here the greeting card company catch phrases run extra deep. Unfortunately, the cards picked by well-meaning, religious folk can have the exact opposite effect. Take it from me, the Expert Sympathy Card Receiver. Don’t let these phrases into your friend’s mailbox:

  1. “God needed an angel”

I usually hear this in reference to the death of a child. This is the most horrifying thought: that God is cruel and capricious and wants to take your children. First of all, children make terrible harp players. Second, God has tons of angels, like billions of angels. Third, angels are technically made from scratch, not from the dearly departed. It’s heresy, so don’t say it.

  1. “God is closing a door but opening a window”

According to Hallmark, God seems to be super into this, but what does it even mean? Is God my remodeling contractor? Please be sure not to buy this card for someone who is recovering from a house fire or natural disaster. They would rather have their original doors than God’s windows. Plus, do you know how hard it is to get birds out of your house? I’ll keep my screened windows, thank you.

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

Now, this implies that that the strongest moment of someone’s life is when they feel the weakest. I get that it’s meant to be empowering, but it can actually feel like you’re minimizing someone’s struggle. No one in crisis wants to hear that someday they might benefit from the really horrible reality they’re living today. Small side note – be ESPECIALLY careful not to say this to someone who may literally die.

  1. “God never gives us more than we can handle”

While it’s true that people’s faith can grow, or change during periods of pain, plenty of good people find it hard to hold on to faith when all they can see or feel is suffering. Instead of speaking theology, why not be the faith your friend needs? Help shoulder her burden instead of blithely reassuring her that she should be self-sufficient in handling hard times.

  1. Everything happens for a reason

Without realizing it, you’re implicating your friend in her own crisis. You’re telling her to grin and bear it, because all bad things work together for good. Horrible things happen to good people every day. It doesn’t make a tough situation stink any less to think you have to martyr yourself today for unknown future benefit. Just hold your friend’s hand and tell her you love her and you’re here for her…and that you’ll fight anyone who sends her glittery Hallmark cards that say, “It’s all in God’s plan.”

I have so many friends who have also been on the receiving end of these horrible phrases. I wanted to sit down with them and hear their experiences, asking them, How do you live AFTER the worst day of your life? 

You can listen in on our conversations on my brand-new podcast, Everything Happens.

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Mike Tinnon
4 years ago

Good stuff!

Mike Tinnon
4 years ago

I am listening to the audio version of “Everything Happens” right now. I am enjoying the book.

Lindsay H
4 years ago

Good stuff – just like when Adam Hamilton wrote this list in his book a few years ago.

Alison S
4 years ago

Here’s one I really hate. “God will be a husband to you.” It’s usually said while walking away from me after I have asked for help.

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