What to say to someone who is suffering

medium_15337092022I’m a pretty sensitive person, so when I see someone suffering, their pain is very tangible to me — and I really, really want to help.

I don’t have a problem feeling empathetic or sympathetic.

I don’t have a problem feeling anything at all — I can pretty much feel everything, actually

My problem, on the other hand, sometimes comes down to navigating through those feelings — moving from feeling into action.

I struggle with what to say to someone in a crisis, how to reach out and let them know I’m sorry they’re suffering, that I want to be there for them, and help them get through it.

I’m way past thinking, “Can I help this person?” because I know the answer is: yes.

Saint Francis of Assisi said, We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

So now, I think, “What can I do right now to help this person?”

And my mind often goes blank.

I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Sometimes, I’m just silenced by their suffering, which is so raw & which makes them so vulnerable.

Maybe it’s because I don’t see that very often in our society — where everyone seems so put together, with everything in its rightful place.

Maybe it’s because most people don’t know how to communicate that they’re suffering  — to begin with, let alone how to cope with others suffering.

Maybe it’s because we’re not taught to share our suffering, in fear that it may make us seem weak.

Maybe it’s because I can actually relate to that suffering, myself…

Either way, I really struggle with my words when I’m faced with someone who I know is suffering.

So I found this article very helpful; It’s a list of things people with chronic pain or illness do want to hear (as opposed to this list here, of things they don’t want to hear). And speaking from experience, as I deal with my own chronic illness, this list is pretty close to perfect — but you’ll see I add my own twist later on.

Now, I don’t think that this list only applies to people who are sick — I think it can very well apply to many more people who are suffering in one way or another, if you just tweek each of them a bit.

Here’s a quick wrap-up of them (in bold). For further explanation of each one, you can read the entire article here.

“You look so good, but how are you really feeling?”

“I’m going to the grocery store, can I pick anything up for you?”

“It must be hard to be sick and in pain all the time,” or  “I imagine it’s a daily grind to have to pace yourself so carefully.”

“How are you holding up? Do we need to stop visiting so you can rest?”

“Don’t feel bad if you have to cancel our plans at the last minute. I’ll understand.”

“Would you like to hear about this crazy adventure I had yesterday?”

“I hope you’re as well as possible.”

This very last one — saying, “I hope you’re as well as possible,” means so much to me. One of my good friends has said it a few times to me — in a text here or there. When she acknowledges that I’m suffering in such a compassionate way — acknowledging the fact that there are many days I’m not feeling well, and wishes me the best that day, I feel like the burden of being sick is so much lighter — that I don’t have to explain to her that some days, I just don’t feel well. She gets it.

And if you think about it, this is something we can pretty much say to everyone — hoping that they’re as well as possible, praying for that for them, because everybody has their share of stresses & sorrows. Everyone will have their downs as well as their ups.

Now, there are a few things, in my opinion, missing from that list above. Mainly, the God factor 🙂 of suffering.

So, I’d like to add some of my own ideas to that list of what you can say to someone who is suffering:

+ I am so sorry you’re suffering. Can I pray for you? Let’s pray together right now.

+ There is meaning in your suffering. There is beauty in it. There is redemption in it. Give it to Him, so He can use it.

+ Your pain and suffering is not meaningless. It is unitive. Let it bring you closer to God. He will use it.

+ Don’t forget that God loves you. HE LOVES YOU. And He is with you.

+ Everything has a purpose. If we are permitted to suffer, it is a special call. “It is a call to a deeper, more heroic love, a choice to walk with Jesus, to truly grasp the ultimate meaning of life, which is eternal happiness in Heaven.” (Jeannie Ewing)

+ You are not wasting away here. God is inviting you to share in His cross, and in the work of redeeming the human race.

+ The greater your suffering, the greater your reward will be… St. Ignatius of Loyola said if God sends you many sufferings, “It is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.”

+ I cannot imagine the pain you are enduring, but I do imagine that there is great power of God that is within this cross. Will you please pray for me?

This very last point is something that may not make a lot of sense at first glance. To ask someone who is suffering for prayers seems a little backwards — at first, doesn’t it?

But it’s something I’ve learned from Saint John Paul II — that “the weak are a source of strength.” And no one’s prayers are more powerful than the prayers of somebody who suffers.

Suffering is a mystery, but so is the Cross; and in both, we can find meaning, purpose, and peace.

Saint John Paul II said, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”

So, I hope you are as well as possible, and if you are suffering, I hope & pray that God will give you the strength to get through each day — as He promises. I also hope you will pray for me, too, because I know your prayers are powerful. 🙂

photo credit: donnierayjones


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  • lisa police

    What a beautiful article. This is such a help to me, as I have trouble with the “right words” often. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It truly has touched my heart. I will pray that God gives you daily strength as you deal with your illness. May God Bless You!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words!

  • Cathy

    Please pray for a friend

  • EJ

    While I think this article is great, one of the last things I want to hear while going through something difficult is that the greater my suffering is, the greater my reward will be. Yes, I know that, and yes, it’s true, but hearing that doesn’t really make me feel any better. It might be different for others, but it’s almost like saying, “I understand you’re going through a hard time, but don’t worry, all the harsh pain & suffering is ok because it’s going to be worth it.” Again, yes, true, but it’s not great to hear.

  • Cathy G.

    Hi Annie!
    I read one of your posts for the first time last week via Facebook. I have “liked” you on FB and now see your daily posts. As a mother of three young children (8 months, 2 and 4) I dont have much time in a day for myself, and reading has almost altogether been put on hold 😉 … That being said, a quick read of what you write often gives me something to ponder, giving me some soul food for the day 🙂 I am also a Catholic wife, trying to live a Catholic life. Though I dont have time to study our faith at the time, I take in the highlights of what you have read and learn through you. Thank you for your blog/ FB posts. You are a spiritual woman with lovely writing.

    … as for this post on Suffering, it was just what I needed to read. Someone close to me is about to enter into separation with her husband, and she is torn apart. She needs to talk and yet struggles with embarrassment in sharing her pain. Please keep her and her family in your prayers.

    May the Lord bless you always,
    Cathy 🙂

    • I am so glad to hear that! 🙂

      I will pray for your friend during this difficult time for her.

      May God bless you, always, too!

  • Solange

    Awesome piece how did i miss this one! Like you, I’m good at feeling sympathy for those suffering. But then im so guilty of inaction. I’m also shy at speaking out and would usually say words like “You’ll be alright. Keep faith :)”. And I may also make a silent prayer like “O Lord have mercy”. Don’t know if that helps at all… I really wish I could act more and use more of those encouraging words there. Thanks for enlightening always.

  • Christina

    Annie, thank you so much for this piece. I’m a chronic pain sufferer, and bed bound most of the time. At only 33, it is often heartbreaking, and I needed a reminder that my purpose is to suffer at this time and place. I am called to suffer with Christ, and it is a great honor (as well as a huge sacrifice). I had begun to feel a bit sorry for myself, as we began St. Peregrin’s novena, but I can now pray with an honest heart, “A life of holiness like yours (St. Peregrin) is more important than a life free of suffering and disease”.

    Thank you, again, Annie. God bless you & those in your heart.

    • catholicwifecatholiclife

      Thank you for your kind words, Christina. I am so very sorry you are suffering! I will pray for you!

  • fa19

    Saint Peregrin has been a source of strength for me and my family for many years. God bless you and everyone else for their sincere thoughts and prayers through his intercession!

    • catholicwifecatholiclife

      Thank you!

  • ALBA


  • Michelle

    Good Afternoon! There are many great thoughts in this article, and as someone who has suffered chronic illness and pain for 13 years plus lost their husband because of it, I’m happy to see such an article. I would like to take exception with one part though…be very careful not to lecture people. It’s demeaning and frustrating especially if they’ve suffered for years and continue to be told how to handle the pain/the right way to accept the pain.
    I am a devout Catholic and I would be a crazy person if I didn’t absolutely know that I in God’s loving grace, I can make good work of my pain. it’s an honor, but constantly being told that I have a special call is just irritating. I’m not saying it’s not true, but you’re not empathizing with me if you’re telling me I’m lucky for this cross. It’s not empathy to tell me to offer my pain. It’s instruction. Good for use instructing your own children but not for friends Also, I start everyday by offering it to Our Lord & reiterate throughout the day, so show me the respect of not assuming I’m wallowing in self-pity. I’m sure I’ve just made it it clear that I struggle with pride…and i do, but I’ve spoken to others who share this frustration. Empathize, don’t preach. Just a thought…

    • catholicwifecatholiclife

      Thank you for your thoughts, Michelle! I’m sincerely sorry I came off as preaching instead of empathizing. I’ve been suffering with my own chronic illness for a while now, and I know the value of someone empathizing with your circumstances & situation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me so I can learn to do better 🙂

  • ElizabethAnne63

    Thank you for this article. After, over 9 years of total disability and struggeling daily to deal with pain, inability to complete even simple tasks somedays, fighting to accept and ask for help (when pride keeps me quiet), not answer “how are you” with a quick “okay” when I am not and trying to not wallow in self-pity many of the comments you listed would help me so much. Just the reminder to offer up the suffering would lighten the burden because I very often forget and waste many hours when each step, each time I transfer from the wheelchair to bed or a stationary chair could have been a prayer.

    Praying right now that God may richly Bless you for your ministry and your witness. Hoping that you are as well as you can be!

    Theresa Elizabeth Anne

  • Theresa Huang

    Wish everyone has a chance to read this article…

    So much suffering in the world and so little we know how to support those who suffers and so very often we only cause others more pain for not knowing the proper way to express our good motivation…

  • Marianne

    Thank you for sharing this Annie! I suffer from Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and arthritis. Some days I can’t get out of bed, and other days I have to pace myself to not use up any energy I might have. It’s a roller coaster and it’s very hard emotionally as well as physically. It feels like no one really understands because the illness is “invisible”. But I know it has purpose and that God uses it for good. So I always, always, offer my suffering to Him for the sake of others. Sharing in the suffering of the cross is meaningful to me, but of course it is hard at times. I will keep you in my prayers, and ask for yours as well. God bless you!