By Norris Burkes, Jan 14 2023

A regular reader wrote me last month to say, “We ALWAYS enjoy your columns and read them to our Sunday-school class.”

I could hear the “but” coming in her compliment about the Chispa Project column when she asked, “May we hazard some chutzpah of our own by pointing out a grammar error?”

“You wrote, ‘The school principal escorted Sara and I….’  It should read ‘…escorted Sara and me….’”

I slapped my forehead as I recognized the mistake that has haunted me in at least a half dozen columns. As my proofreader tells me, “The correct pronoun following any verb is the objective pronoun: me, him, her, us, them. It’s never I or myself.”

Sadly, both my proofreader and my wife schoolteacher wife missed it this time.

I can’t begrudge people their grammar peeves. My wife gets in a dither anytime she sees a misplaced apostrophe.

Recently, she let out a shriek while typing an email.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, expecting a spider.

“I accidently turned a plural into a possessive.” She was simply pale.

I shrugged. Guess everyone has his or her battles.

I save my battles for people who insist on using what I call “comfort grammar.” I call it that because it’s used to comfort the bereaved. The language consists of at least four common phrases.

  1. “Everything happens for a purpose.”

When I hear this one, I want to scream, “Really? Is there a purpose for drunk drivers, tornadoes or incompetent medicine? I haven’t found it.”

I think it’s better to tell the grief-stricken person, “God is here. I am here. We will walk through this together.”

  1. “They are in a better place.”

If you heard that after losing a son or daughter, wouldn’t you want to ask, “Why is that better than being with me?” Or maybe you’d be ready to conclude, “Then I want to go there too!”

Maybe a better response would be, “Tell me about what you believe happens after this life.”

  1. “I know how you feel.”

I actually heard a woman say while commiserating with a new widower, “I know it’s not the same thing, but I lost a dog once.”

It’s better to say, “I can’t know how you feel, but I’d love to hear what she meant to you.”

  1. “God won’t give you more burdens than you can handle.”

Just one big problem with that comfort grammar –  The Bible doesn’t say that!

The phrase is a poor paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is more accurately paraphrased as “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to escape.”

The verse refers to the temptation to steal, lie or cheat. It has nothing to do with the number of tragedies we experience. This misquote will often burden people with a message that God “gives” them calamities.

People who use this comfort grammar aren’t really trying to comfort the bereaved. They are trying to wrap the tragedy into a neat box so they can assure themselves that it won’t happen to them.

The truth is that comforting grieving people has nothing to do with saying the correct thing. It has nothing to do with your thoughts and prayers. Instead, it has everything to do with being present to those who hurt.

That’s why I’m leaving you with this better alternative.

Don’t speak. Just do.

Avoid the halfhearted offer, “IF there is anything I can do, just ask.”

Don’t make them ask. Just do.

At my father’s funeral, my sister made a sign-up list for those who said, “If there’s anything I can do….

“Yes,” she said. “Here’s our volunteer sign-up list.”

Using the list, people agreed to answer phones, drive relatives to the airport or bring meals. One man agreed to mow my mother’s lawn for a year.

Not everyone will know what to say to the anguished, so my best advice when you find yourself at a loss for words is this:

“Say little. Do much.”

The doing will say more than you can ever imagine.


Burkes is a retired USAF chaplain and the pastor at Community Church at 300 Main St. N.C. Sunday Services at 10:30.

Send Chispa Project denotations, grammar corrections or comments to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or by email or at (843) 608-9715. For more on how to comfort the grieving, check out his books on his website at or at Combie Mailbox.