How to Respond to Someone Who Lost Everything (When You Lost Nothing)

 People in Sumter, Clarendon, and Lee Counties are at very different places this week. Some of us (including me) have only been inconvenienced by the floods. Our homes and cars are undamaged, our loved ones are safe, and we are ready for life to get back to normal.

For others, life will never be back to normal. The waters rose too high. Homes were damaged, cars ruined, and priceless memories are now a sodden mess. Families are totaling up damages, comparing them to insurance policies and bank accounts, and wondering how they will start over. As one woman posted on Facebook, “I sat at the stop light and wondered how everyone else could be so carefree when my world is in ruins.”

How do you respond to people who lost everything, especially when you lost nothing?

First some things not to say:

  • Don’t say “I know how you feel” unless you lost everything too.
  • Don’t say “I’ll pray for you” unless you will pray for them, preferably right then.
  • Don’t say “This is a sign of the end times” or “This is God’s judgment on America.” Our floods were not a sign of the end times. Jesus said it would rain on the just and on the unjust. Disaster plus bad theology is toxic.
  • Don’t say “It could have been worse.” What people are dealing with is bad enough without offering them alternative nightmares.

Some things to say:

  • “How can I help?” In the South this question is often meet with “Oh, just pray for us.” If that is the response, stop and pray right then. Pray for strength and wisdom.
  • “How are you? How are you really?” Give people a chance to share their story and express their emotion.
  • “I am sorry for your loss.” Even if you haven’t lost what that person has lost, you can tell them you feel their pain.
  • “I admire you.” Encourage people by praising their courage and their decisions.
  • “I’ll do this while you go and rest.” Do what you can to encourage people to get the rest they need.

Some things to do:

  • Do an act of kindness for those who lost everything. Take them a meal. Provide water for them. Offer shelter. Let them shower and bathe at your place.
  • If you don’t know what to say, listen and keep your mouth shut.
  • Make a note to check in with people every day for the next month. After the initial shock fades, there will be more emotion to process.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

For those who lost so much, I am sorry and I am praying for you. For those of you who lost nothing, this is your time to love your neighbor as yourself.

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