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What Not To Say

What Not to Say

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:6

I’ve made a list of things people hate to hear when their spouse is deployed. Perhaps you could add to this list, but these are the statements about which I’ve heard complaints:

“I’m sorry.”
“I know how you feel. I was a single mom.”
“I know how you feel. My husband was away on business last month.”
“I don’t know how you do it!”
“Stay busy—it’ll go quickly.”
“You knew what you were in for when you married into the military.”
“At least he’s not in Afghanistan” or “At least he’s not in Iraq.”
“I watch ‘Army Wives’, so I know what you are going through.”
“At least it’s only six months and not fifteen months, like I went through.”
“At least you don’t have any kids (or have a job or fill in the blank) and have all that extra work.”

Honestly, and I think you would agree, most folks are just trying to “connect” with you. They don’t know what to say, so they feel the need to say something—and it just comes out wrong. We’ve all done it and lived to regret what we’ve said when the tables were turned–and we knew better.

So what do we say when we’re wanting to encourage someone whose spouse is far away in service to our country? What would be gracious—not seeking to assume or compare what that person is going through? I’ve “collected” ten ideas from which to choose and modify—and of course will be willing to add more, if you will make suggestions. Here they are:

“Thank you for your service to our country, and to our Lord.”
“How can I pray for you?”
“I admire your courage and sacrifice. You have my deepest respect and appreciation.”
“What can I do to help you in a practical way?”
“The world is a better place because of what your family is doing.”
“You represent what is good in our country.”
“Your children are also serving, and we appreciate that.”
“It is because of your bravery that we are able to live in freedom and security.”
“Thank you for your commitment to bring freedom to nations who desperately need it.”
“Your sacrifice and service is not in vain. We will remember what you did.”

Perhaps you think these responses are “too wordy”, and a sincere “thank you” would warm your heart if your spouse was deployed. But other ExcellentOrPraiseworthy readers might ponder them in order to be prepared for a good response when faced with the opportunity to encourage.

But let’s consider this from the flip-side . . . what do we graciously say to someone after they have said something which could have hurt our feelings? Don’t we want to be mature in our attitudes, understanding that others could not possibly understand what we are going through?

Let me include two wonderful quotes from two military wives whom I admire—to help in this effort. Sara Horn writes in “With a Little Help from My Friends” from Military Spouse magazine (June 2010):

“Civilian was ‘they’ and military was ‘me.’ ‘They’ actually tried equating their husbands’ business trips to my husband’s trip to the sandbox: so not the same thing. I was a military wife. Well, suddenly-military wife would be a more accurate term. Guard and Reserve spouses are suddenly thrown into a military existence when their service members deploy. And suddenly-military wives can be prone to seeing everything through one filter: the ‘My Life Has Changed Forever and No One Has a Clue” filter . . . . But hindsight, they say, is 20/20 . . . . I finally realized I had placed a whole bunch of expectations on them—standards and beliefs that weren’t necessarily fair . . . .” (p. 62)

Another perspective—because we need perspective in handling deployments with grace—is from my all-time favorite military-wife-book Footsteps of the Faithful by Denise McColl when she was a young mother of five, and wife of a submariner. She wrote:

“ ‘I don’t know how you do this with five young children. . .’ people often say. And each time my response can either be a trite and nonchalant, ‘Well, it isn’t all that bad . . .’ or a spiteful ‘I don’t know how I do this either! He’s sure going to make up for this when he gets home!’ Or it could be (and this takes both boldness and humility), ‘Well, I’m only doing this by God’s grace, as Jesus does a good work through me. When I don’t listen to Him and obey, I can say for certain that I don’t do a very good job at this at all . . .’” (p. 137)

The truth is that there is only one who can truly understand what we are going through—one who has experienced all pain and loneliness—Jesus Christ. It is to Him we must run when we have our feelings hurt, when we are overwhelmed, or misunderstood. Running to anyone or anything else . . . . will eventually disappoint, or worse—ruin.

Respected Bible teacher, Jill Briscoe, commented on this foundational truth when her husband, Stuart, was traveling for an extended period of time: “Years ago I stopped looking to anyone but God to satisfy me. There is no man that can love me enough. No child that can need me enough. No job that can pay me enough. And no experience that can satisfy me enough. Only Jesus.”

In conclusion, I like what Oswald Chambers, the author of My Utmost for His Highest, had to say about this subject.  He was a chaplain in World War I, serving in the camps near the front lines in Egypt.  In his writings on Job 8:7-10 he says, “Over and over again during this war men have turned to prayer. . . . The biggest thing you can do for those who are suffering is not to talk platitudes, not to ask questions, but to get into contact with God, and the ‘greater works’ will be done by prayer (see John 14:12-13).  Job’s friends never once prayed for him . . . .”

Pray for each other.  Pray for yourself.  Pray for those who want to help, and say the right thing, but just don’t know how.  Pray to grow close to Jesus.

Work cited:

Chambers, Oswald, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 2000), p. 56.

Horn, Sara, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Military Spouse, June, 2010, p. 62.

McColl, Denise, Footsteps of the Faithful (Orlando: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1994), p. 137.

Jill Briscoe quoted from Alistair Begg’s Truth for Life broadcast “Contentment or Corruption, Part Two, B”, August 11, 2010.

Questions to Share:

1. What has someone said to you when your spouse was deployed that really encouraged you?  Why was that particularly helpful?

2. How can you best encourage each other as a couple while you are geographically separated during deployment?

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