What Are Some Helpful Things To Say To People Who are Suffering or in Grief? #50
All of the pundits said it couldn’t be done. The odds were 3720-1 against, but we have made it to episode #50 of the Daily Bible Reading Podcast. If you’ve been here from the beginning, pat yourself on the back, but don’t get too carried away, because we have some Bible reading and Bible talking to do. Today’s passages include: Exodus 2, which introduces us to Moses, one of the most important people in the entire Bible. We will also read Luke 5, in which Jesus calls His twelve disciples and 1 Corinthians 6, in which Paul gives an incredibly strong warning to Christians about sexual immorality. Our focus remains on comforting well those who are suffering, and that means our focus passage for the day is in Job 19, and the very first verses show us how difficult we can make it on our friends who are suffering if we say and do the wrong things (like Job’s friends did!)
How long will you torment meJob 19:2-3
and crush me with words?
3 You have humiliated me ten times now,
and you mistreat me without shame.
We DO NOT want to be like Job’s friends – we want to help those we love who are going through trials, so today we are going to discuss some ways that we can actually comfort the grieving. Let’s read our passage in Job first, and then consider how we can walk with the hurting in a helpful way.
For whatever reason, when we are suffering, we often feel alone – even if people are trying to reach us and express love to us. Something about going through acute suffering, grief, depression and pain alienates us from those who aren’t going through the same thing. We can see Job expressing the pain from this dynamic in this chapter:
He has removed my brothers from me;Job 19:13-14
my acquaintances have abandoned me.
14 My relatives stop coming by,
and my close friends have forgotten me.
Because those who suffer often feel alienated and isolated, we who love them must try extra hard, and persist in trying for a long time, to communicate our love for our friends. With that in mind, here are:
Three thoughts on what TO say to those who are mourning, grieving or hurting:
Sometimes you don’t have to SAY anything. We all stumble for words when we are interacting with somebody in extreme grief. They are hurting, and we have a natural – and wholesome – instinct to try and comfort them and soothe their pain. I suspect that this dynamic is the main reason why we say so many stupid and inaccurate things to people who are mourning. We want to help, and words are failing us…so we just say something. However, it is far better to say nothing than it is to say something harmful. Remember the example above about the slightly awkward and tall lady at my friend’s sister’s funeral? That lady had no words, so she just mourned with a mourning mother – in a genuine and quiet way. Shared suffering is powerful – often far more powerful than even the best clichés.
“Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.”Hebrews 13:3
The WORD of God is comforting. While I think it is wise to avoid merely quoting a Bible verse to somebody who is suffering (The Word of God is LIVING and ACTIVE and POWERFUL; but treating it like a mere Band-Aid cheapens it somehow) I believe it is powerful to share Scripture with those who are suffering. Not in a drive-by way – but in the context of demonstrating love through time and your presence. In the midst of that – a powerful Scripture like Revelation 21 (quoted below) is indeed comforting and helpful. The truth that one day, God will wipe away every tear is a precious truth. The truth that some people will be crying right up until the point of Jesus’ Second Coming and triumphant victory is a sobering reality.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.”Revelation 21:4
Persist and remember those who have suffered loss, even after a lot of time has passed. Grief is a very, very lonely process, and a very lonely emotion. When you are suffering the grief of the death of a loved one, it often feels like nobody else in the entire world has suffered quite like you are suffering. And that grief lasts a very, very long time. Most friends of people who are mourning will, after a certain amount of time, attempt to bring their relationship with the mourner back to a more normal place. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. As Christians, we DO grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We grieve WITH hope – knowing that God will one day wipe every tear from our eye. That said – we still grieve, and we still remember those whom we have lost. As the friend of somebody in mourning, do them the kindness of remembering their loved one, and remembering that they are probably still in pain. It might be easier to never bring up the departed loved one – perhaps to spare the feelings of your suffering friend – but avoid that temptation. Remember them vocally, and continue to comfort your friend weeks, months and even years after their loss. I close this chapter with two very powerful thoughts on death and mourning from two people whose lives were scorched deeply by it. George Mueller was a mighty man of prayer. In his autobiography, he wrote this paragraph about how God sustained him after the death of his dear wife:
“The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory, no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Now, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received grace, we are partakers of grace, and to all such he will give glory also. I said to myself, with regard to the latter part, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all this springs, as I have often said before, from taking God at his word, believing what he says.”Jehovah Magnified, by George Mueller, p. 80
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who resisted Hitler and the rise of the Nazi’s – a decision which ultimately led to him being executed. He wrote these words while facing death:
“Why are we so afraid when we think about death? Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle. It beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland … Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can [by our faith in Christ] transform death.”(Source: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. By Eric Metaxes)