How to Know What to Say When Hard Things Happen

Pouring a cup of coffee, I relish the steamy aroma. There’s a sweet morning pleasure of that first sip of coffee. It’s going to be a great day. Glancing at my phone on the counter, I check to see if there are any messages.

Up pops a message from my daughter, the one who recently left home to go to college.

My heart stops.

My great day start slams into the unexpected shock of tragic news.

“Mom, my friend’s dad died last night. Idk what to say.”

How to Know What to Say When Hard Things Happen. Four things to remember when comforting a friend.

Tears well as I take it in. I know this child and their family lives in our neighborhood, and my heart grieves at the magnitude of this loss.

Again, I read my daughter’s text. Through the letters on the screen, I know her heart. Caring for her friend, but unsure how to respond. I’ve felt that way at times, haven’t you?

  • How to encourage without sounding trite?
  • How to overcome the fear of sticking my foot in my mouth?
  • How to avoid tripping all over someone’s tender heart with clumsy good intentions?

I’m not a pro at this by any means, but here’s what God has been teaching me about meaningful encouragement.

It’s okay not to know what to say, but don’t leave it there.

4 Things to Remember When Comforting a Friend

1. First of all pray…

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints… Ephesians 6:18

Let’s ask God to train our hearts that our first response is prayer. Pray for help, pray for healing, pray for peace, pray for wisdom, pray for words…

Too often we sigh, “There’s nothing left to do now but pray.” As if prayer is a last resort when all of our efforts and remedies have failed. How would our responses be different if we pray first, asking God to show us what to do and say next?

Cultivate the holy habit of PRAY FIRST.

A great verse to pray:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

How to Know What to Say When Hard Things Happen. Four things to remember when comforting a friend.

2. Love one another.

Knowing my girl was now in class, I texted her back, “Let her know you care. Come alongside with love.”

Visit, email, text, FB message, snail mail–reach out and show you care in whatever way you have at your fingertips. Don’t wait for tomorrow or for when you have more time. Just connect and support. Reach out. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

 3. Resist the pressure to fix.

You don’t have to have the answers or be able to solve the problem–we don’t have that kind of power and last time I checked, magic wands were not available at Walmart. Some days, I’d really love to have a  magic wand…

I’m the kind of person who assumes emotional responsibility for others. When I can’t make things better, my go-to internal response is anxiety. I’m sure there’s some lofty psycho-babble term for this, but the struggle is real. If I can’t make it better, I can at least to a bang-up job of worrying about it.

I’m slowly learning to recognize and let go of that self-imposed pressure to make problems go away. I’m learning to simply be…

Be supportive. Be loving. Be prayerful. Be helpful.

4. Look and listen for God’s lead.

Prayerfully listen to the ideas that niggle at your heart, the suggestions that press into your thoughts. Look to see opportunities God opens. He knows what is needed and how you can best help.

The most effective comfort begins in the heart of God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. —1 Corinthians 1:3-4

A few ways God may lead you to respond:

  • physical help–childcare, meals, knowledge, or transportation
  • emotional care–listen, encourage, or be present
  • spiritual support: pray deeply, give scripture, or share your own relevant struggle

When we follow the Spirit’s leading, God works through us to support others in a way that is the best for this person and this moment.

When the Holy Spirit moves, He is never trite.

Never insincere.

Never too busy.

And never too late.

This is why prayer is our first and best response. Without prayer, we may miss the stirrings and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

When we invite God in and trust Him to lead,

we have the privilege to be God’s hands and feet,

sharing His heart in a moment of need.

How do you help a friend in hard times? Your idea may be just the thing someone needs to read today.

Blogging in community here: Coffee for Your Heart, Grace and Truth.


  1. Great advice. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hello Barbie! So happy to see your beautiful picture in the comments today. I have been encouraged in meaningful ways through the words you write!

  2. Such wise advice, Ginger. Something I’ve done for friends who’ve lost parents is to plant a tree in their yard (with permission, of course) in memory of their loved one. One time, the entire family came outside and we held hands around the tree and prayed for peace and for opportunities for others to come to know the Lord through the tragedy. Blessings!

    • What a beautiful idea, Cathy. A tree is such a beautiful reminder of life and hope. What an amazing moment it must have been to gather around that tree in prayer that others would come to Christ. Thank you for sharing this today!

  3. One of my default responses is to write something to the person. If the thought is fleeting, normally the Lord will lead in another direction. If it lingers or comes up again, I prayerfully write a note(I have a love for and a habit of collecting stationary for this very reason!). You’re so right Ginger – there is no good in trying to “fixing” it. What tends to show up is empathy, acknowledgement of messy feelings in the difficulty, and hopes for the perceived presence and comfort of the Lord.

    I have had to learn(the hard way :/) what people DON’T want or need to hear. Compassion and divine love are key. Thank you for this reminder!

    • I love hearing how others sense God’s promptings and how they have learned to follow. Learning the hard way has it’s true value, for it can teach us things a million books never could! Love your heart to allow God to encourage others through you.

  4. Amen Ginger! You hit it out of the park on this post. All of these tips are tremendous. We always have hope when we start with prayer. I can relate to the internal anxiety you describe. Wanting to help but also remembering I am not helpless. When we seek God’s leading in every circumstance, He will guide us. God has left His children here on earth to show a love like His to those in need. May we always be willing to listen to His direction and glorify Him in our words and actions. Thank you for sharing these necessary insights today. Have a wonderful weekend and blessings to you and yours.

    • Horace, thanks for starting the conversation on this post! I know you have been on both ends of this and your thoughts mean a lot! Praying for you as you continue to follow God’s leading in all you do.

  5. Wise words, friend! Always pray first… That is indeed a holy habit! And it requires me to slow down, to come to a stand still before God and listen more than I talk or plan or do. But Oh, when I do this first, my doing goes so much more smoothly! Blessings!

    • Ginger Harrington

      Oh dear…listen more than I talk, plan, or do. Um…that’s a challenge for me. Yes indeedy–building the holy habit of pray first helps so much. Thanks for adding your heart to the conversation. Blessings back to you:)

  6. I’m sorry for your daughter and her friend, but how wonderful that your daughter turned to her mom for advice on what to say. Sounds like you gave her very good advice, Ginger. I’m certain she’ll be able to come alongside her friend in loving ways!

    • Ginger Harrington

      Yes, this was a hard situation, but she has handled it with grace. Her friend is doing well, and finding comfort through the support of friends and family.

  7. Great advice my friend. Especially the “don’t try to fix it” point. Just love them and be there. We mess up when we do try to say something. “I’m so sorry” is the best. Much love! Coming over from Planting Roots!

    • Ginger Harrington

      “I’m so sorry.” Simple but powerful words to express empathy for the hard times. Thanks for visiting, Andy!

  8. This was an amazing post. You nailed me; I always feel like I need to fix whatever is hurting another, but I can’t. And when I can’t, I feel uncomfortable like the other person is offended. Thank you for helping me put this in perspective.

    • Ginger Harrington

      I’m glad this was helpful for you Ashley. I’ve struggled many times with this, not realizing I was doing it. It can be a challenge, but recognizing helps us to make choices that don’t come from false responsibility but true empathy.

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