Saying “try this” may be more helpful than “do this”.

On the bulletin board above my desk is a card. I wrote it sometime mid-2022. It says,

“Rather than saying ‘do this’, say ‘try this.’”

I wrote it and then went on with my work, which includes saying things to people.

I often tell people what to do. More accurately, I write and speak in ways that could sound like I’m saying “do this.” (I wrote before about the problem with “just do this.”)

I don’t think that’s helpful.

When we are offering support to people in difficult times, particularly in times of grieving, we can sound like we are telling them what to do. We write books about what we did. We share articles about what other people did. We quote Bible verses about being courageous or not being afraid. And we can imply that everyone always should “do this”, particularly if it worked for us.

I don’t think that’s helpful.

“Do this” creates expectations.

“Do this” says to a person grieving a spouse, “Here’s the right way to grieve, to handle this, to survive.”

And feeling a need to live up to those false expectations can be life-sucking, can be a new devastation: “I lost my partner and now I can’t even grieve right.”

“Try this” is different. “Try this” suggests that it may or may not be helpful in your situation, for your personality, for the loved one you remember. “Try this once or twice” suggests that you aren’t going to fail, but that the idea offered may not match.

At my best moments, I’m aware that Jesus spoke to different people in different ways. I remember that we’re described as having different giftings, different capacities. And we’re described as being loved. And often Jesus invited people to conversation.

In conversations, in teaching, in writing, perhaps you could try this.