How NOT To Help Someone Who Is Hurting (comic strips included!)


We all have times like this, don’t we? And they are never easy. I happen to have a strong tendency (whether owing to my genes, my God-given personality and inclination, or who knows what) toward anxiety, much, MUCH more of it than is helpful and much more than I care to admit. Because it can be really hard to admit that you are struggling with something like anxiety.

Unfortunately, sometimes when you gather your courage and go ahead and tell someone how you’re feeling, it ends up going something like this:Fix1

And then, some of this:

Fix2And then, this:


Now, along with the late (and lamented) David Rakoff, I do really believe that:

“people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?”

But in his very last piece on a recent ‘This American Life’ episode, Rakoff, his voice raspy from the lung tumors that were consuming his insides, he mentioned being at a dinner party at which people were discussing what sorts of self-improving things they’d like to do…as if giving up sugar or exercising more or doing more reading would really, truly, change their lives for the better. When it came to David’s turn to contribute, there was nothing to say. It was clear by then that all the ‘fixes’ in the world weren’t going to do a thing for him. He was dead within a matter of weeks.

We are in a cultural moment that is obsessed with FIXING. With magic diet and lifestyle changes that promise, when implemented, to make us a whole new, better person.

I understand that. I think it’s actually a deeply theological longing. But it’s not so simple as we might imagine. We would like to eliminate suffering, which is possible some of the time and completely impossible much of the time. Death forces us to face that head on.

It’s amazing how little Jesus preached at people who were hurting, reserving his harshest and most preachy and advice-giving words for those who were pretty sure they had this whole God thing entirely figured out. And it’s equally amazing how he chose simply to be with–and EAT WITH–people who were struggling with all kinds of problems, and, yes, to use that unpopular word, sins.

I just can’t see Jesus doing what the people in the above strips are doing. Instead, I could imagine a scenario like this:


You’ll also want to check out:

another comic strip post on what anxiety feels like

my friend Ellen’s post on being ‘unfixable’ in a world obsessed with fixing

my friend Laura’s post on being anxious (and Christian)

24 thoughts on “How NOT To Help Someone Who Is Hurting (comic strips included!)

  1. I wonder too if my tendency to want to offer pithy advice to people suffering is my unwillingness to want to enter into others’ suffering. Offering to sit down over pizza and beer is a lot more messy than doing the Christian lip-service, “I will pray for you.” Also as soon as we enter into their suffering, we will probably be forced to deal with our own hurts and anxiety.

  2. Thank you so much for the beautiful post today. As a person who struggles daily with anxiety, I am constantly bombarded with ways to “fix” it by family and friends. (Like I’m not trying to fix it every minute of the day myself). What they don’t understand is that the constant reminder that I’m not “normal” almost makes me feel worse than the anxiety itself. What is needed is “a pizza and a beer” (I personally think Jesus would opt for the beer, not the root beer : – ) so that I can serve God even in the midst of my anxiety. Your words are a blessing to me every day!

  3. Sent this to Todd Hiestand (my son) because I knew he would love it as much as me. and discovered he played basketball with Tim…and we used to come to the games. Small world. really resonated with your post. Answers feel hollow when you are in the middle of it even though you “know” they are true. thanks for your post.

    • I think I met you once at the Well (VERY briefly!), Mrs. Hiestand! I think it was Cole’s 2nd birthday party, and I was a sweaty and awkward pregnant woman. ;) It’s a very small world, indeed.

  4. This is one reason why I don’t talk much on Facebook about my down times, because I have so many advice-giving, well-meaning friends. Instead, I’ve found it helpful to talk to just my husband about it because I know he doesn’t offer any kind of advice, he just listens, and sometimes, I even feel better after just talking through some of it. Other times, I don’t, and sometimes I just need to be sad or cry for a bit. And I realize that what works for me isn’t what works for someone else. But really, a listening ear is the best kind of “help” someone could give me.

    • it’s so hard for people to be ok with just listening. I have a friend i always call “the friend with no answers” but he was such a support to me through a time of much loss.

  5. Yup – that’s the main message of Job, I think. Don’t try to understand, advise, moralise, instruct… just sit down with the sufferer and accept that sometimes bad stuff happens to good people.

  6. This is a very thought-provoking post.

    I think I need to talk to Joe over at Pagano’s. He already has the GF pizza, bless his soul, but no GF beer.

    That’s NOT okay…

  7. So many times over my past 24 months of crisis and struggle, I’ve wanted to tell people that if there were a simple fix, don’t you think I would have applied it by now???? Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. Well done post!

    • Mine has been 36 months. I got a card in the mail today with ALL of the stuff from the cartoon in it. All of it. I threw it straight in the trash. After reading your comment, I want to go tell the person that on her Facebook.

  8. I love this. I too get anxious, and I don’t like it when people try to “fix” me. Usually, if a fix is in order, I know I need to do it, but I don’t always want to.
    I wrote about this recently too, because I have a friend who is struggling with cancer and gets easily overwhelmed. She asked us all to just “act normal” and I love this picture of Jesus doing that for us.

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  12. Amen! I love your illustrations of fixing versus being together and the ultimate illustration of Jesus’s approach to being with those who are suffering. I agree that death is an all too humbly and fear-inspiring truth, but the response shouldn’t be faulty optimism or self-help, but drawing nearer to one another and to God. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  14. As someone who doesn’t generally suffer from anxiety, I have this to say: it seems to be MORE normal to get anxious about things than not.

    You people who get anxious? I’m sorry for the times I (& people like me) have tried to fix you. You’re not broken. We are wrong for not simply acknowledging and validating how you feel.

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