Over the course of the past few months my family was faced with a very terrible ordeal. It involved one of our kids and there was no simple or quick fix. It was a time of great grief and loss. My family is not unique and the reality is that most people face some tough times in their lives. For some it may be the loss of a loved one through sickness and death. Recently some of my friends have been faced with the loss of a child through miscarriage, the loss of employment, and a diagnoses of life threatening cancer. It was a time when they had to walk through hell.

From personal experience I have learned that when I am walking through hell, there are three things people did that weren’t very helpful—although their intentions were good:

Don’t give advice.
Yes, you may think you know a better way, something a person could do that could help, but oftentimes the pain they are in prevents them from hearing your advice; it falls on ears that can’t hear it above the wail of their own pain in their heart. So, unless or until it is solicited, keep you advice to yourself.

Don’t criticize.
To criticize is to point out the faults of someone in a disapproving way. Criticism is like tossing rocks into the backpack of someone already straining under the load they are carrying. It is more fuel onto the flames of pain. Yes, the pain they are in might be the result of their own unwise and stupid choices, but criticism never helps someone who is suffering.

Don’t offer platitudes
Christians tend to be pretty adept at quoting Bible verses to friends and family when they are enduring a hardship. Someone’s loved one dies and we often offer platitudes about the resurrection or the hope of our life with Jesus. And while all these are true, in the moment of loss and great pain this actually doesn’t help. People need to grieve the loss, and putting on a spiritual band aid of a Bible verse does not stop the emotional bleeding.

So really, the best thing to do for someone who is walking through hell is to merely hold their hand and walk alongside them. Genuine comfort comes from knowing that you care and are there for them. This is the time to mow their lawn, make a meal, or help with their kids. In other words, hold your tongue and just hold their hand.