Several years ago when I lived in southern California, I was walking down the street on my way home. The street had four lanes with a wide parkway green down the middle of it. As I was approaching an intersection I noticed a young mother with two little boys. Holding the hands of both boys the woman stepped into the crosswalk. A car in the first lane yielded to the pedestrians and stopped for the mother and boys to cross. The mother, thinking that all was clear in the second lane, let go of the older boy who ran ahead toward the parkway green. Just as the boy stepped into the second lane a pickup truck sped past the stopped car and struck the little boy. The boy went flying through the air and his small little body landed in the middle of the intersection. Everyone froze in shock. The mother screamed in devastation and ran to her son lying dead before her eyes. This is one of those moments that will remain in my memory forever. Another moment that remains in my memory was the response I heard from a faithful member of the congregation I pastored at that time. She said, “God must have needed that little boy more than his mother.” All I could do after hearing those words was pray, not only for the grieving mother, but for every single person she encountered not to say such a thing to her.

Often we just don’t know what to say in these kind of situations, so we say what we have heard others say before us. Things like, “I know how you feel”, “She’s in a better place”, “It was his time to go.”

I have an on-going conversation, discussion, debate, with a member of my family who constantly says, “If it’s meant to be it will happen.” My response to that statement is simply, “If that is true then every single thing that has happened is meant to be.” And the debate begins. A similar phrase is, “Everything happens for a reason.” As if the Holocaust had a reason or God really helped your team win the Super Bowl.

A helpful book about such phrases is, HALF TRUTHS: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things The Bible Doesn’t Say by Adam Hamilton. Adam shares a story about a women whose husband had abused her, whose brother had committed suicide, and whose nephew had lost a leg. She wrote that she would lose it if one more person said to her, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” In a note to Pastor Adam, she went on to express her faith in the midst of challenging times:

“I absolutely reject the idea that all of these horrible things…were God’s will. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that God is helping me cope. It’s not easy, but I know that I am never alone, even if it feels that way sometimes. I know I can turn to God and cry and kick and scream, and God will comfort me.”

As familiar and common as the statement, “God helps those who help themselves,” the Bible really does not teach that. In contrast to this statement the Scriptures teach us that God helps those who can’t help themselves. Showing compassion and mercy for those who struggle is part of the very character of God.

When we read Adam’s book at St. John United Church of Christ, we came up with a list of things that we thought might be helpful to say or do for those who are grieving. Here are a few: “I’m here for you.” “I’m praying for you.” “Is there anything I can do to help?” (And then do it.) “Let me do this for you.” “You are not alone.” “I love you!” “God loves you!” “Would you like me to just sit with you?” “Would you like to share with me what’s on your mind?” “May I offer you a hug?” And sometimes no words are even necessary. Sometimes it’s enough to just sit and listen and cry.


Keith Haithcock, Photo by Jennifer Summer

From the Corner
is written by the
Rev. Keith M. Haithcock,
Pastor & Teacher of
St. John United Church of Christ
0n the corner of
Fairfield and Ward Aves.,
Bellevue, KY