False Comfort

My husband had the bright idea of reprinting some articles from The Hammer, a little magazine I edited for Community Christian Ministries in the late 80’s. This article of mine was printed in 1986, volume V, no. 1. It is slightly edited.

We are told in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armor of God so we can resist spiritual adversaries and not fall to temptation. But I believe we often get “hit” with our armor off and our shields down because we are in the presence of our Christian friends. When we get together with the saints, we feel safe and are consequently unprotected and not alert. There is one temptation I have noticed that can come at such times undetected. It is disguised as sympathy or Christian compassion.

Here is an example. Perhaps you have  been swamped recently with company, and you have more coming. Some Christian friend says to you, “Are you having more company? I don’t see how you do it!” Up until that time you may have had a sweet, happy attitude about your hospitality. But this seemingly innocuous remark can lead you astray. You may remark, “Oh no. I’ve really enjoyed the company!” But later your friend’s remark may come back to you, causing you to think, “I really have had too much company. I should be exhausted.” You begin to feel sorry for yourself. Where you once had joy, you now have self-pity and resentment. Your well-meaning friend has stumbled you. Your guard was not up.

I believe remarks like this abound in Christian circles. “You’re doing Sunday school again? Isn’t it time for someone else to do it?” “I don’t see how you manage when you get so little time with your husband.” “You’re pregnant again? How will you ever feed them all?” “I don’t see how you do it with just one car. Don’t you get frustrated?”

All these comments are ringing with, “You poor dear!” Is this really Christian compassion? On the contrary, such comments are not Christian compassion, but rather snares. They encourage you to feel like a martyr. You may have been content (and not thinking about yourself) when suddenly you are caught up short. Your attention suddenly focuses on yourself instead of others. From there it is a short step to self-pity and resentment.

What can be done? First of all, watch yourself. Don’t go about “poor dearing” your friends. Rather, be an encouragement to them. Instead of remarking on the large amounts of company they have had, take a dessert over to help them out with the load. Thank them for doing Sunday school. Even better, offer to help. Are you genuinely concerned about how little time your friend gets with her husband? If so, then offer to babysit while they go out. Instead of planting the seed of discouragement and self-pity by commenting on their obvious need for a second car, offer to loan them yours or give them a ride when they are in need. And by all means, do not discourage pregnant sisters with your negative remarks. Take them a box of goodies or fruit to help out feeding the little ones and remind them how precious they are in God’s sight. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

We should not be responsible for stumbling our fellow Christians and causing them to sin when we could be helping them bear their burdens. “Poor dearing” is not bearing a burden. Fixing a meal or doing someone’s laundry is. Make your encouragement extremely practical.

But what can you do to keep your guard up so that you are not vulnerable to the unwise remarks of others? Be alert. Recognizing such remarks as an invitation to sin is the first step in protecting yourself. I am not saying that I believe these remarks are premeditated to cause you to stumble. Certainly not! But when a fellow Christian begins to extend this kind of “sympathy,” you should cut it short. “Don’t feel sorry for me! I am thankful we are having another child!” By recognizing the temptation and responding in a thankful, joyful manner, you will protect yourself. And pray that you will not be tempted over the remark later. When you least expect it, you may hear it rolling around in your mind. Resist it like any other temptation and continue to carry on as before.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

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27 thoughts on “False Comfort

  1. So true! Just yesterday someone was telling me how we “really needed more space” for our growing family. I had to remind myself (and the individual) that there are much larger families that do with much less space! Remarks like that can definitely breed discontentment if my armor is not on!

  2. Great article (from way back)! I know for myself that I have been on the receiving end of a lot of that “poor you” and “how do you do it”, as my husband often works long hours and some weekends as a doctor. I am quite used to the long hours, and although I do sometimes feel a little lonely in the evenings that he works, once the kids have gone to bed, there is always much to be busy with. I had never realised how those well meaning comments can come bak to you later on and cause me to have feelings of discontent, that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I am also aware of how I make similar comments to others in the effort of being kind and understanding. Thanks for the insight, I will work towards practical help and words of encouragement!

  3. Thank you Nancy for this article! It is so true. Often we speak without thinking what we are saying to the other person. At least I know I do! I am also on the receiving end of a lot of those types of comments and it does tempt me to self-pity when I’m not careful. It is so important to be thankful in all circumstances and you have reminded me of that need, so thanks.

  4. Yikes! While others were on the receiving end,I am on the giving end. I did not realize that my comments of sympathy,or “you are much stronger than I am,I could never do it,how do you do it?”Were actual stumbling blocks to my Christian sisters.I should have known when I open my mouth no good comes from it:) Another reason to be silent! Thank you for another eye opener.

  5. Thank you! I think these comments can be especially irritating during pregnancy. “You look so uncomfortable” and suchlike. The Lord tells us that children are a blessing and motherhood is a blessing. He shows us through our Savior that it is blessed to suffer for the sake of another. Let us (as a community) treat pregnancy as joyful, blessed work, and let our comments to pregnant women reflect that attitude!

  6. I’d never considered the negative effects of “poor-dearing” as you put it. I’ve often heard the listener has the power. How tragic if when listening we use that power to make another feel negatively about themselves–especially when before us they were doing just fine. It’s a fine line to walk between being sympathetic vs. enabling a pathetic attitude. I really appreciated your post on this. I hope to take these words to heart so that I can be a force for encouragement rather than discouragement. Thank you!

  7. This is so very helpful! Thank you! How would you respond to family who pity you for wanting a large family, for being young when you have your wee ones and for being a homemaker? I find it easier to smile and say “Oh no! I adore being a young mom, and I love being at home!” to friends who offer me a pity party, but with family it seems trickier than that. They sort of offer advice along with the pity (eg:” 2 kids is a great number! Soon they’ll be in school and you’ll have time for yourself again!”) How would you respond to these sorts of things?

  8. I’d NEVER thought of this before! I felt like it was a compliment/acknowledgment to say “you must be exhausted” and the like.

    I am wiser for your words. Thank you!

  9. Wonderful words of wisdom!

    It would also be a kindness to slightly-more-mature single ladies if we were to bear this in mind. Rather than giving them a torn look as you hug them to your bosom and remark with grief that you ache for the Lord to give them a husband to make them whole, or pausing to apologize to them for making “couple” or “parental” comments in the midst of a group setting, a cheerful embrace and an inclusive smile would go much further.

  10. Words of wisdom for both the listener and the speaker! Thank you for sharing such a helpful article.

  11. Thank you, Nancy, for digging deep for us. When I find myself the recipient of “poor dearing,” I find myself going in one of two directions, both deny God’s daily grace to me to fulfill the call He has given. I bask in the sympathy as if my hands are really being tied to the stake … or pride, “I must be wonderful — they have no idea it’s not burdensome at all.”

  12. Hmmmm…not sure I understand the point of this post. Sounds like a waste of time to be worrying so much about what people are saying and the effects off-handed comments. Sometimes people may say the wrong thing. Big deal. Build a bridge and toughen up.

  13. I’m so glad you wrote about false encouragement. My girls are 2 and 1, and I hear nothing but sympathy from the well-intentioned mouths, and ‘you are crazy’ from everyone else. It only serves to make me more tired. But when I see other moms in similar situations, I don’t take the the time to rejoice with them. Instead I think, ‘there’s another crazy mom.’ Thank you for the conviction and encouragement to speak words of grace, to build one another up.

  14. @Lori: “Rather than giving them a torn look as you hug them to your bosom and remark with grief that you ache for the Lord to give them a husband to make them whole, or pausing to apologize to them for making ‘couple’ or ‘parental’ comments in the midst of a group setting, a cheerful embrace and an inclusive smile would go much further.”

    This made me laugh out loud! I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me, says the thirty-year-old unmarried woman! Bless you for making mention of it. 😀

  15. Awesome! I had a similar situation with a negative conversation I had this week, and these very ideas were in my mind, I really think God is showing me to guard my mind/heart from absorbing negative comments like this, thanks! Also, can you send or comment on “The HAmmer” and who published it, which organization? I’d like to search out some old copies,etc…. 🙂

  16. LG and Lori:
    after reading this “@Lori: “Rather than giving them a torn look as you hug them to your bosom and remark with grief that you ache for the Lord to give them a husband to make them whole, or pausing to apologize to them for making ‘couple’ or ‘parental’ comments in the midst of a group setting, a cheerful embrace and an inclusive smile would go much further.”

    This made me laugh out loud! I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me, says the thirty-year-old unmarried woman! Bless you for making mention of it”

    I can only say that giving a hug to a single woman is great, its the “you’re not whole” part that is sadly believed and propagated by many- just horrible stuff if we’re honest.

  17. This is a timely post. I think part of the issue is that while we all want grace, there are comparatively few of us who really take well to being pitied. On one hand I really appreciated a quiet word from a friend when I was surrounded by a car full of pregnant ladies, but I would have shriveled up if one of them had openly remarked something along the lines of “But of course I feel for those who don’t have children.” I have enough trouble breaking the codependent/victim mentality as is, so please don’t encourage that attitude. I refuse to be/stay miserable because God has different plans.

  18. Whoops!!! I do this! What a great post! Thank you for helping me see this thoughtlessness as it really is. Praise the Lord! 🙂

  19. Very wise words! I’ve had lots of these types of comments directed toward me recently–six kids 10 & under (including 8 month twins), homeschooling—people feel sorry for me & pity me. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to say—I will remember to smile more & remind them that I’m thankful for the gifts I’ve been given. I also love the advice about practical encouragement—I will be doing this more often.

  20. Sara-I have 5 under age 10 and homeschool, too. I can totally relate. I also hear remarks from people at church about how they just couldn’t do what I do, etc. I try to be gracious as much as possible, although I do wonder why they would say this kind of thing in the first place. I think much of it is ignorance. I guess it is good for us to learn how to be encouraging to others and not say this kind of thing ourselves, right? They just don’t know what they are missing. 🙂

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