On a crisp November evening just before bedtime, my phone alerted me to a new text. “I just got a phone call, my daughter died in a car accident today.” I stood frozen by shock searching for something of value to say to this grieving father. A wave of sadness swept through my body as I eked out a feeble, “I am so sorry.” I wondered how my client who was not on good terms with his adult child would fare. This particular client had already been through so much tragedy in his life, but he was putting in the effort each week to address the toll childhood trauma had taken on his emotions and closest relationships.
I have visited that nightmare before. That place of suffering where I sit with a friend or client whose child has just died. Their loss so raw and heavy it sits as an entity between us. It’s like walking among the catacombs where there is no light, no life, only darkness. There are no words of comfort one can offer, no Bible verse to fix the situation, just the warmth of human presence and commitment to help shoulder a burden.
During such times of loss, it is not uncommon for Christians to mindlessly quote Scripture or offer trite sayings “Sad for us here, but what a welcome they received in heaven,” “We should celebrate they are with Jesus,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle” “Everything happens for a reason.” These responses while perhaps well meaning minimize the pain and agony of human loss and this is where Christians get it wrong.
Clients come to counseling in all stages of their grief. They are vulnerable, anxious and fearful. Sometimes dreadfully afraid to face blocked emotions, closet skeletons and family secrets. As a therapist, I am here to provide a safe space for them to grieve and heal, but I do not sprinkle Bible verses around like pixie dust. If I do quote the Bible I do so responsibly and in context.
Trauma’s impact to the body and brain is profound. It literally reshapes the brain and body; it compromises the capacity to trust, engage in pleasurable activities and maintain self-control. Trite sayings, shallow remarks and throwing Scripture at someone who has endured a traumatic experience contributes to retraumatization.
It is better to say nothing than to offer a careless response. Remember, Job’s friends were helpful until they opened their mouths, “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you!” (Job 16:2, NIV). Since the intent of reading the Bible is to apply what has been read, it’s vital we take the time to study it in context. Misapplied Scripture not only weakens what the original authors were communicating, the entire meaning of the passage can be lost, it fuels legalism, creates bondage and continues the cycle of harm to self and others.