I don’t know about you, but I often find it more daunting to comfort others in their pain than to comfort my own heart. Even though we have experienced grief and loss ourselves, it still can be difficult to know what to do or say to help others wrestling with their own pain. We may even feel awkward about how to begin.
So many times, God has put a thought in my mind or desire in my heart to encourage or comfort someone dealing with loss or grief. But I have often failed to or been hesitant to act because of fear and my own shortcomings.
But the Bible is clear, that not only do we have hope in Christ, but we are also to comfort one another.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Cor. 1:3-4
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14
As I have recognized my lack of obedience in this area and wrestled with overcoming my own weakness, God has helped me to see both biblical and practical ways He wants me to offer comfort to those I know who are hurting.
1. Obey God’s Promptings
Often we wait because we are unsure of ourselves, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing or feel awkward about how to begin. I appreciate author Nancy Guthrie’s wisdom in these situations. She writes about just such an experience after the loss of her daughter, Hope.
Another reason I find that I often delay or balk at comforting someone is that I don’t know them very well or they are not in my closest circle of friends. But I have learned this is not an excuse. Last year, my family finally came down with COVID. While, my husband, daughter, and I recovered fairly quickly, my mother who was living with us at the time, struggled greatly and had to be hospitalized. Then we faced months of helping her through her recovery. While we were not experiencing grief, it was still a physically demanding and emotionally draining time. During this season, a woman from our church, who I only knew casually, reached out to me. She brought us meals. She checked on me every week, sometimes texting me every day just to see how we were and offering to help. In short, she did a very valuable thing for me — she let me know that she saw me. She saw me in my difficult place, and even though we were not close friends, she offered me hope, and encouragement, and helped to bear my burden. As a result, we are now friends, and I feel humbled and blessed that she didn’t let such a little thing as only being casually acquainted stop her from showing Christ’s love to me.
Never assume someone else will serve or bear the burden. Never believe that your kindness is not necessary or will not be well received. When we see a brother or sister who is grieving or struggling, we need to obey God’s call to comfort and be His arms and hands in the lives of others.
2. Listen More, Speak Less
Have you ever wanted to encourage someone but didn’t know what to say? Or perhaps you felt that you had to share something deep, profound, or meaningful to really make a difference. While words are important and can bring healing, we would do well to remember that James tells us that we are to be slow to speak but quick to listen (James 1:19). In times of grief, a listening ear is far better than a ready tongue. Indeed, it is only through listening and listening well that we will even begin to know how to speak words of comfort and healing.
I had a friend in college whose father passed away suddenly when she was only sixteen years old. She told me that the people who most ministered to her, her mother, and her younger siblings were those who just came a sat with them, allowing them to be quiet or to share whatever thoughts or feelings they were experiencing. Through just their patient presence they built trust and created a sense of safety.
Make time to visit with those who are grieving and hurting with the intention of just listening and learning. Let them share what they will, cry if they need to, and let them know you see them and love them in their dark place.
All too often, when we are quick to speak in these circumstances, we can unintentionally say things that are not helpful and even hurtful. I was talking with a loved one recently who just experienced a miscarriage. She revealed to me that one of the difficult things that have intensified her grief are comments from fellow believers that are true and well-intentioned but not timely or helpful.
When we are quick to speak, we all too often say things that are careless and diminish the pain of the person hurting, regardless of the fact that our words may be true. God is sovereign, and that is a comforting truth. However, when we say that to someone who is grieving, especially when that grief is fresh, we can inadvertently minimize their loss as if God’s sovereignty negates the need for mourning. Taking time to really listen to what a hurting person is experiencing allows us to know how to counsel and encourage them when the time comes.
If we must speak, let us say words that show we see them in their pain, we love and care for them, and we are ready to serve them however they need us.
Above all, remember that your actions will say far more encouraging things to a grieving heart than your words. I don’t remember a lot of the things that people said to me when my dad passed away, but I do remember the things they did for me and for my family. Be available for those who are hurting. Listen to them in their grief. Show them that you care. In time, the right words you need to speak into their heart will become clear to you as well as a balm for their weary heart.
There are so many practical ways we can comfort people who are grieving:
As we look for ways to be a help and encouragement, we must remember to respect people’s wishes. Everyone grieves in different ways, and things that have been meaningful to you may not be for others. We ought not to insist on serving people in the way we want to do it. For example, the husband of an older woman in our church died suddenly a few months ago. In our church, it is customary to start a rotation of meals for the family in such circumstances. However, the widow requested that no meals be brought. Her grown children had come to be with her and help her, and they decided that was sufficient. I will admit that part of me still wanted to drop by with a meal, but I had to remind myself that the best way to minister to her was to respect her wishes. She wished for private, uninterrupted time with her children.
Sometimes we think we know better and insist on “helping” others even if it goes against what they’ve asked for because it doesn’t make sense to us. But what we are really doing is dishonoring them in the name of helping them. If they ask for privacy, give them privacy. If they ask for no meals, then hold off on bringing that casserole. You can still let them know through a written card that you love them, are praying for them, and are available for whatever they need. Make a point to share a quick word of kindness with them at church and let them know you care. But as we seek to show Christ’s love to others, let’s make sure that whatever we do is done with their wishes in mind.
Until Christ returns, there will always be loss in this life. Sometimes those losses are of those we have known and loved. Sometimes those losses come in the form of things that will never be. Loss, in all its forms, brings hurt. But we have hope. Hope for the future and for today. We have the body of Christ to minister to us. We have the work of Christ on the cross that assures us that one day all will be made right — sin and death will not win and Christ will reign forever! But as we walk the here and now together, let us not neglect to encourage and comfort one another. Love your fellow believers through acts of compassion and words of grace.
How have you loved on someone who was grieving?
8/3/2022 11:54:01 am
So beautifully spoken. I morn the loss of my disengaged prodigal child. I tend to be able to offer others comfort more than myself. These are so helpful.
8/4/2022 10:01:15 am
As someone who is currently grieving, I heartily recommend all 4 of these. Great advice. May I learn to do these things when others around me are grieving as well.
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