Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In this Part 3, I’m continuing to look at this topic of handling grief, and the process or stages we go through. A lot of good advice comes from counsellors and authors on this matter, but the experiences of Job from the Old Testament gives us a glimpse of what happened to him, and how this remarkable man, who loved God and wanted to serve him, dealt with it.
The whole experience certainly wasn’t easy, but as part of God’s Word, we can find some answers that I believe God wants us to take to heart and use for our personal times of grief and loss. It is something you and I will face—there’s nothing surer than that. How do we feel when faced with a terrible loss?
Listen to Job’s words in Job 3:23-26 (CEV):
Why do I go on living
when God has me surrounded,
and I can’t see the road?
Moaning and groaning
are my food and drink,
and my worst fears
have all come true.
I have no peace or rest—
only troubles and worries.
Here are feelings of anger, of being alone, abandoned. And probably the feeling of if only. Have you said that?
- if only I had made him quit smoking
- if only he hadn’t taken that trip
- if only I had insisted she work shorter hours.
And then there are those if onlys about changing reality:
- if only I had loved her more
- if only we hadn’t moved
- if only he hadn’t retired.
We Are Not Alone As We Grieve
I think it is especially helpful for us to remember at this stage that not only is Jesus Christ the reason for our hope but that he is the one who truly understands. Do you know how Isaiah 53:3 describes the one sent from God? You may know it in the King James Version: “He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” In the NIV it says, “He was familiar with suffering.”
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There is great comfort in knowing that we are not alone as we go through the grief process. The great God of the universe is one who is acquainted with grief. So we need not fear to bring to him our anger and our guilt and our if onlys, knowing that God is one who understands, listens carefully and seeks to bring healing into our lives.
Job stays in this stage so long because his so-called friends who come to comfort him do such a lousy job that, instead of easing his grief, they only serve to intensify it. His friends were of no use. And that’s a great shame—when we suffer bereavement we need friends, but we also should know how to help others with our words of comfort. The bereaved person you want to support will need a lot of help.
The Right Kind of Support We Can Give
So what can we give? First, give people permission to travel through the grief process. We need to allow people to grieve in the church. We need to allow others to cry, to weep, to ask questions, to be angry, to express pain. Avoid stifling other people’s grieving process. Avoid the attitude that basically says, Are you not over this yet? or Have you not moved on yet?
The church is in a wonderful position of trust to be a sharing community. That we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens.” We need to allow our brothers and sisters who are grieving the space to grieve. And help them through the process. Don’t be shocked when a recently bereaved husband breaks down in tears when you ask him how he is doing. Give him a hug and let him know how much you care.
Give your presence. One of the greatest gifts you can give to the bereaved person is your presence—that means listening carefully. Allow the bereaved person to vent, to go through their anger, to express their questions about the goodness of God and all the rest. Don’t reprove them for what they say or feel, but help them to voice their feelings and try to understand them. And then after you have listened, listened, listened, take your cue from what they say.
Give that grieving person your attention. This means asking God how you can respond to a bereaved person. Ask him to show you the ways that are most natural for you. He may say to you, Take over a meal. He may say, Write a note that says, ‘I’m thinking of you and praying for you.’ He may say, Send flowers. God may say, Go and mow their grass or something else of a practical nature.
Then ask yourself, What would I like done for me under these circumstances? Realise that people have different needs during the different phases of grief. Then ask the mourner, What can I do for you? If the bereaved needs to talk, then by all means we should respond. If another wants to be quiet, we should be quiet too, and not rush to fill the silence. Remember focus on giving, not taking.
As comforters we should approach softly and avoid words of wisdom.
Fourth, avoid giving words of wisdom. You know what these are. I always tell bereaved families just before the visitation to expect people to say a lot of stupid things. They will want to express their care and their love but they won’t know how to say it and so they say stupid things. As bereaved we need to practice grace.
But you can help by avoiding giving words of wisdom. Don’t say, You will heal in time. That sounds wise and helpful, but it’s not. It’s glib and superficial. Time doesn’t necessarily heal. Another trite word that is often offered at funerals is, I know just how you feel.
The Canadian evangelist Dr John Wesley White worked for many years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in the early 90s he lost his 36-year-old son in a plane crash. He has written a very frank account of the first three months of his grieving journey and perhaps of all the things that people said to him, the least helpful was from a woman who came up to him and said, “I know exactly how you feel. Two years ago, my grandmother in England died from cancer at the age of eighty seven, and I know exactly how you feel.”
Even if your experience is similar to the person you are talking to, you will never know exactly how they feel. It is impossible – only the person and God knows how the person truly feels.Perhaps what is better than these words of wisdom is saying nothing—don’t say anything until you have listened carefully and developed a good rapport with the bereaved.
As comforters we should approach softly. Many times there is nothing to say except, I love you, I’m praying for you and I’m here for you. Being a caring presence and a good listener is far better than any words that we may be able to offer.