Help! I Don’t Understand These Comforting Christian Cliches!

A friend of mine is going through a divorce.  While I haven’t been involved in one myself, I understand how incredibly difficult this time must be for her, not to mention her husband.  No doubt, it’s tough.  You go through a lot of emotions and, especially when there are children involved, things can get complicated.  Sometimes people use their kids to get back at their exes, the relatives of the couple divide into tribes, and vicious things that can’t be taken back are said in moments of anger.  In times like these, you rely on your family and friends to help get you through.

credit: Christian Piatt

credit: Christian Piatt

In this particular case, she has used her Facebook page as catharsis, sharing her troubles with those that know her.  She spoke about issues she is having with money, how difficult it is to be without her children half the time, and the increasingly complicated relationship she now has with their father.   I myself left a fairly lengthy comment, along with the promise to check in on her from time to time, and to offer any support I could.  It isn’t much, I wish I could do more.  Being that she lives out of state, it’s the least I can do at the moment.

Many of her other friends and family commented as well.  But I noticed that a lot of what many of them wrote seemed to me to be trite, practically meaningless cliches that evidently were supposed to offer some kind of spiritual and religious comfort.  What struck me is that they said nothing specific about any of the problems she mentioned, nor were they offering any kind of solutions.  Instead, they seemed only to be telling her to get with Jesus and pray to God more.

Now, I am an atheist.  I don’t believe in the Christian God, or any God for that matter.  But I do seek to understand those that do a little better.  So, I’m writing this to ask for help.  I want to know what some of these phrases mean, and how exactly they are meant to help solve her problems.  Here, then, are several of the instructions offered to my friend, along with what they appear to mean to me.  Please let me know where I may be wrong, and help educate me so I can better understand these things going forward.

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“Let go and let God”
At first glance, this appears to be a sentence fragments to me.  Let God…do what?  But even if I’m wrong about that, I still don’t understand what it means exactly.  You “let go” of your troubles, I assume, and God takes it from there.  So, you just kind of sit there and wait for God to intervene, I guess.  You do nothing, is that right?  Where am I going wrong here?  Help me.

“Run toward Jesus, not from Him”
Okay, this one at least seems like a full sentence to me.  Even so, I need help figuring out what on can expect once you move toward Jesus.  I’m guessing it means that, in times of trouble, some may forget their relationship with their lord and savior.  But by “running toward” him, perhaps through prayer, you can expect comfort and healing.  Am I at least on the right track?  If so, should my friend “run toward” Jesus, how long can she expect to have financial and personal difficulties?

“God is in control”
This one sounds a little bit like the “let go and let God” one.  But, if it’s true that God is in control, why is he putting my friend through a divorce?  Is God punishing the decision to divorce with financial woes, and taking away her kids half the time?  I always think that, if God is truly in control, he has a lot of explaining to do.  Not for people’s choices, so much, but for cancer, child birth defects, plane crashes, and the natural disasters he occasionally throws our way.  But be that as it may.  God being in control kind of blows the whole idea of Free Will out of the water, doesn’t it?  For, if God is controlling everything, what does it matter what we choose?  Or do we not choose anything at all?

“Look up for comfort”
I’ve heard celebrity astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson use a similar phrase from time to time, but I don’t think he means it like these folks did.  Tyson says that too many people think about the size of the universe and feel small, whereas he feels big.  The variety of atoms that make up our bodies, science tells us, are the same atoms found in the stars.  As Carl Sagan put it so elegantly, “We are made of starstuff.”  So, while it’s possible the people on my friend’s Facebook page were telling her to grab a telescope and head outside, I tend to think that instead they were telling her to look to God.  But, once again, I fail to see what that means, or how it helps.  Teach me.

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Make no mistake, I am being sincere.  I truly do want to understand.  Before I wrote this, I consulted both the internet, as well as a close friend who was once a devout Christian.  Neither was of any help.  My friend didn’t understand the phrases either, and at one point actually said, “I just don’t get it.  Let god what?  Let go and let god laugh while you plummet?”  A few internet sites even chided Christians for offering cliches to people in times of need.  I admit it.  I’m lost here.

So, if you are a Christian, someone who considers themselves faithful or, heck, even an atheist who may have some insight, do feel free to let me know what I’m missing.  When these comments were left on my friend’s Facebook page, they received multiple “likes,” so I have to assume they are meaningful to people, and that it is me that is missing something.  Or, is it that we really speak in sort of a different language?  I ask for your help in figuring that out.

Thanks for reading.

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6 thoughts on “Help! I Don’t Understand These Comforting Christian Cliches!

  1. I think that in cases wherein they are not in a position to render much material support, the least they consider they are able to do is pray for the alleviation of their suffering.

    • You may be right. I suppose I wish they had offered advice, perhaps even emotional support. But to just basically say “pray more,” didn’t seem to be of any help whatsoever. Just bugged me, I guess.

      Thanks for your input, I’ll give it more thought.

  2. I think someone that would greatly effect my response to this would be whether your friend who is now going through a divorce is religious or not? If she is, then all these statements would basically boil down to seeking comfort and solace from religion to overcome her difficulties.
    On the other hand I can understand why people would write these sort of statements. It’s true that they will believe what they’re saying, but the vague nature of them would at least allow them the feeling that they’re offering some sort of comfort to her. In reality there is very little that others can personally do to help her. Of course you can offer her emotional or material support , which is no small feat, but when it comes to the feelings involved in the broken marriage, only she can sort them out for herself. So as a fellow atheist I would argue that these people are just trying to do ‘something’. Whatever they can. I’m sorry if this wasn’t the kind of thing you were specifically looking for, but this is the boundary of my understanding.

  3. Well, part of the problem is that American Christianity has, in so many cases, reduced itself to a spiritually laced self-help program and its deepest truths express themselves as trite cliches. This is especially prevalent in (though not exclusive to) suburban evangelical circles.

    It is certainly a comfort to know that God wills our ultimate Good, and *many* Christian maxims (God is Love; We are all made in God’s Image) do express theologically profound and mysterious sentiments, however it seems you’ve exhausted the depth of the quotes you listed.

    The only thing I can offer is that many of the quotes you provided stem from a form of evangelical Christianity which is likely Calvinist in origin – and thus denies the reality of free will. On this view, “God is in control” means that, literally, God has your final destiny pre-ordained and so you may as well not worry about it since it’s, quite literally, out of your control.

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