What NOT to say to someone struggling with their faith
by Elizabeth Esther
1. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!” This nice little cliche manages to be both offensive and dismissive all at once. It assumes the listener has abandoned important aspects of their faith and belittles the honest struggle of re-examining once dearly held beliefs.
2. “When’s the last time you read your Bible?” This question is used as a litmus test; ie. if you haven’t been reading your Bible daily, well, OF COURSE, that’s why you’re having problems. This question exposes a dualistic mindset that seeks easy answers to complex problems. Not only is this question hurtful, it presumes every spiritual struggle can be simply diagnosed and resolved with a few predictable, formulaic steps.
3. “Are you going to church regularly?” While regular involvement with a body of living, breathing believers is important to spiritual health, for someone who is suffering from ministry burn-out, this question only adds a burden of guilt and shame. Even Jesus took a break from being around people all the time.
4. “Stop projecting your bad experience on every group of believers!” The worst thing you can say to someone in recovery is that they’re not healing in the RIGHT way. Folks who have survived an abusive experience–whether church related or not–usually have anxiety
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triggers about situations similar to ones where they were hurt. Recovery is not linear. It’s not rational. It’s full of setbacks, detours and roadblocks. Patience, gentleness and kindness go much further in rehabilitating the wounded ex-church member than frustration or remonstrances for not healing fast enough.
5. “You need to move on.” Unless you are intimately acquainted with the wounded person, assuming you know how far they’ve come is not only presumptuous, it’s unkind. Everyone moves on in different ways at their own pace. Some people are proactive in their recovery and seek immediate counseling or therapy. Others just need a long break before they start to re-examine what happened. Sure, some people get stuck and perhaps can’t heal past a certain point without help. Still, statements that imply the person isn’t moving on are unhelpful and harmful…
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