For years now I’ve felt there was a disconnect between the well-meaning reactions of church members toward Christians affected by cancer and other diseases of similar dread.
My life has been affected greatly by cancer specifically and recently it has been again to even greater levels in my immediate family. Having been on both sides several times, I feel qualified to assemble this list of things that I feel Christians should and should not say to Christians affected by cancer. In some cases the point attempting to be made might be legit and fair, but simply is best unsaid to a person hurting due to this type of situation.
Here are the 5 Worst Things to Say to Cancer Patients or Their Family Members:
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1. "I pray God's will be done."
It was when someone said this to me that I decided I would put together this list. Though it might sound spiritual, this response sounds like an insensitive cop out. You really don’t have to pray for God’s will to be done you know. God’s will is going to be done whether you ask him to do his will or not. I realize that Jesus prayed, “Your will be done,” and I’m not discounting that phrase as a subject of prayer. But Jesus also mentioned specifics in his exemplary prayer. Remember him saying, “Give us this day our daily bread”? There were actually quite a few specifics to his prayer. “Your will be done” wasn’t the entire prayer concerning a matter. And when my family member has been diagnosed with cancer (or something else), I’m honestly and truly hoping that God’s will is to heal him/her. In fact, I’m leaning on God and begging for that to happen. So even if you personally pray for “God’s will to be done,” maybe just say, “I’m praying for you and [the sick person]. And I’m thinking of you as well.”
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2. "God's got this."
This is a trendy line to toss around these days. But don’t say it. Because what if the treatments don’t work? Or what if…well am I to assume that God didn’t “have it” after all? I know that God can heal. And I know that he has before so I’m hoping that he will. But he doesn’t every time. That’s a fine looking high horse of faith you’re on, but are you saying that God is definitely going to heal in this situation? If so, how can you know that? You’re on shaky ground my friend, especially when you’re dealing with someone who is in a fragile emotional state.
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3. "Remember, it's appointed unto man once to die."
This has been said to me concerning a loved one. Yes, it’s true that humans were “appointed” to die, but does it have to be now? Can’t it wait? Please don’t preach at me or use church talk. Just be human and try to empathize with this hurting, scared person. Remember, the Ten Commandments can be summarized fairly well by the saying, “Don’t be a jerk.”
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4. "You just gotta believe (or have faith)." Or, "All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed."
I’ve had faith the size of a mustard seed. I still attended the funeral. So was I not even able to muster up mustard-seed sized faith? Am I that sorry of a Christian? Everyone dies eventually and it’s not because of lack of faith. One of my loved ones survives to this day and is doing well after cancer treatment. My faith was a lot less in that situation than it was on the previous several who passed away. It’s not an exact science! Nor is it a spell that requires a pinch of faith. If we’re being honest, it’s actually pretty confusing at times. We live in a fallen world and though we escape it in the next life, in this one we sometimes suffer along with it. Most people, like me, have a memory of people they prayed for who died anyway, and in moments we don’t like to admit we wonder if God is 0 and 5. So don’t tell me what the “magic recipe” is that will have God wanting to heal my loved one (or me). Hold your tongue and tell me that you love me and are praying for me (and/or my loved one). Tell me you’re bringing dinner tonight so that I don’t have to worry about it. But don’t tell me to “just believe” or “just have faith.” Just don’t.
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5. "God revealed to me that you (or the loved one) are going to be healed."
Someone said this to me once and my loved one was not healed. I’m just being honest in saying that too many people think they know the mind and intentions of God these days. Remember, even the disciples had to “cast lots” (basically like rolling dice) to determine who would replace Judas as a disciple because they didn’t know God’s will on the matter. These were men who walked and talked with Jesus directly and yet even they didn’t get a direct message from God! The hurting person who hears such a statement is often left to recover from their false hope and are left to decide who lied to them. You or God? (Hint, it’s not God) So maybe it’s best to keep such a perceived revelation to yourself. There’s a reason that so-called faith healers don’t work in hospitals and it’s the same reason that so-called psychics don’t win lotteries. Consider the fact that you are a flawed human being who might be misinterpreting something as the voice of God when, in fact, it’s not. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. It just means that you’re an imperfect human and that maybe God doesn’t feel the need to consult you beforehand on his decisions.
Job’s wise friends were silent for several days after his tragedy. But they were there with/for him. Don’t feel compelled to provide a spiritually deep statement. And don’t give in to the temptation to show off your faith or your spiritual victories. Just don’t. Your presence is more important than your words. So be there and be involved.
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What You Should Do Instead
1. Bring a meal.
2. Pick up a child from school. Ask if you can babysit for an evening. Take their dog home for a few days.
3. Help with laundry (just call ahead and say, “Unless it’s a bad time I’m coming to help you with your laundry”). If you really want to roll up your sleeves, clean their bathrooms while you’re at it!
4. Go to the hospital and sit with their loved one so they can walk to the cafeteria and have a meal.
5. Send flowers. It shows you care and that you are thinking of them which means so much when you’re going through this valley.
6. Ask if they need anything taken to the post office (and take it for them).
7. Offer to pick up their prescription.
8. Sneak a $20 bill in their pocket. Being sick is expensive.
9. Grab their keys and tell them you’re just going to fill up their gas tank.
10. Offer to drive them to the next doctor’s appointment (Sometimes family members are very worried, or even terrified, before certain appointments where results of scans or tests are going to be revealed and driving is something they’d rather not do).
Coach Lee is a breakup coach and marriage consultant. He is the developer of the Emergency Breakup Kit, and a relationship educator on YouTube. He has been interviewed by Reuters, Elite Daily, AskMen, BravoTV, Forbes, and others.
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