A Pox on the Platitudes

I’m in a bad mood most of the time these days. I’m tired of the pandemic. Weary of living it out in a small apartment in a new city where I hardly know anyone. I’m angry at those who are not taking COVID seriously and putting others at risk. I’m disappointed in people who answer “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” And I’m incredibly disheartened by the way people are treating one another.

And on top of all that, our microwave quit working, and we have to wait on the landlord to replace it. (I know. Not that big of a deal, but little things feel much bigger these days.)

It’s delightful to live with me right now. Feel free to send my husband and daughter a sympathy card.

The last thing I want to hear right now are perky platitudes.

Worry weighs us down a cheerful word picks us up.

Proverbs 12:25

Cheerful words can be just what someone needs, but other times, they are counter-indicated. This proverb, used on its own, can easily be misused to reduce real and complex problems to minor issues that can be solved with clever little bumper sticker messages.

“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!”

“It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile”

“You make your own happiness.”

“Your only limit is you.”

“Let go and let God.”

“Why worry when you can pray?” 

And of course, every woman’s favorite: “You should smile more.”

When someone’s heart is deeply burdened or overwhelmed, an enjoinder to “cheer up!” may not only be unhelpful, it can cause more harm. It tells that person that you don’t take their problems seriously or (perhaps even worse) that you just don’t care enough to bother. 

However, a sincerely encouraging word can, indeed, make an enormous difference in a difficult situation.

So instead of quippy quotes, when someone is in distress, try these instead:

“Your faith has always been an inspiration to me. I know it will help see you through this.” 

“You are incredibly strong and smart. I know you’ll make the right decision.” 

“I know it’s really hard right now, but it won’t always be like this. I believe in you. You can get through this.”

“You have done so much for others. You know there are plenty of people who are ready to help you in whatever way we can.”

When someone is worried, offer an encouraging word, but choose wisely. Don’t be dismissive, take their concerns seriously and offer comfort–not pithy platitudes.

Adapted from the online class You Got This: The Intentional Encourager.

Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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