It has been six months (almost exactly) since last I wrote something here. It was an intentional and needed rest from writing, but now the time seems right to begin again. Hopefully you’ll join me on this journey, reading my words and then sharing your own thoughts in response.
As a way of starting again I wanted share something I wrote the other day for my local church family. As a church we find ourselves gathering around a dear and precious family who has experienced the great loss of their 11 month old daughter who was battling cancer. It is a tragic loss that wreaks of the wrongness of sin and death in our world. As a response to these events I simply wrote a few thoughts regarding the pursuit of grieving well. As an American I have long since been convinced that our culture has no concept of how to practice this well. Below you’ll find my initial thoughts on grieving well. There is more to say certainly, but this is a start.
For those of you reading who are not American, I would love to hear your thoughts on grief within your own cultures.
Times of great loss and sorrow seem to highlight the fact that as a culture, Americans are poorly equipped for grieving. It is not something we are taught how to approach and certainly not something we have learned to value. We however, are the Body of Christ, his chosen people, his royal priesthood and as such we should make intentional steps towards this practice of grieving well. We are called to grieve in ways distinct from those who don’t have the hope of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
I wanted to simply offer a few thoughts on grieving well with those who are in the midst of loss. How do we approach those who are grieving and what does it look like to live in that tension of being a people who both have great hope and also suffer deep loss? This isn’t a “how to” or some definitive final word on grief. It is simply a few thoughts to consider and some ways to be intentional and biblical as we respond.
1) Be present not wise
In the book of Job we find Job’s friends coming to his side at his time of great loss and suffering. So much of the book of Job is filled with their conversations that it can be easy to miss the significant reality of their presence. The friends of Job sat in silence with him for seven days before speaking a word.
And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:12-13
They raised their voices in weeping, but not in an attempt to offer advice or counsel—not for a whole week. There is mighty power in simply being present with one who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Our willingness to sit patiently with them while they weep and remember and rant is an act of great love. So often when we see those in grief we are tempted to give our best counsel, our wisest words. The truth is that often we are motivated to do this mainly because it makes us feel better. The friends of Job loved him enough to wait for him to speak; they waited until he was ready.
When you see those suffering great loss give them a long hug, sit down beside them, be present. Don’t be tempted to put your wisdom on display.
2) Be of the Truth
When the time does come to speak to those in grief fight the urge to say whatever comes to mind, to just speak flowery words that carry no depth. Speak biblical truth, speak words of Scripture. Psalm 119:25 reads, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” There is an understanding here that God’s words carry life. They draw our souls from the dirt and revive us.
Before you go to the side of those in grief, pray for biblical wisdom from God. Spend a few moments in your Bible considering what you might share and then when you see them, share those words. Don’t be drawn into the desire to use Scripture as a springboard into your own commentary on what it means and how it applies. Just speak truth, and let the power of God’s own words sink deep into the soul of the hearer. Feel free to share your own sorrow and grief, your own memories of their lost loved ones, but also be sure you are offering them a balm for their soul. The words of Scripture can soothe better than any words you or I could come up with on our own.
3) Be a long sufferer
Some of the older Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of the word patience that most modern translations opt for (like Galatians 5:22 which describes the fruit of the Spirit). I think this word longsuffering provides and incredibly significant image when it comes to loving well those who are in grief. The tragic reality is that in our culture most people have a very limited tolerance for engaging with those who are grieving great loss. It’s not that we don’t love those who are grieving, but the reality is that it is incredibly painful and difficult to continue weeks and months later to sit patiently and cry together. It’s painful to consistently remember with them those lost loved ones. To listen and talk with them as they go through deeper pain than we may be prepared to identify with. To grieve well with our brothers and sisters takes great patience. It is an act of longsuffering.
We need to be in prayer that God, by his Spirit, would develop in us a depth of patience that could be described as longsuffering. That we would be made ready for the long journey of grieving that lies ahead. That our hearts would grow in capacity, that we would become a people of mercy and compassion that we could never be on our own.
4) Be hopeful
We are a people of hope. We know that Jesus is coming again, that those who are found in him will experience life without end; that death will be dealt the final blow removing any influence it has on our lives. We know that we are looking to a better home, that God has prepared us for this very thing. We should cling to that and proclaim that to each other always.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:1-7