As a church, and as Christians, we should learn how to be good at helping others. Our culture teaches us to resist, deny, or hide our pain. As Christians one of our callings is to give support to others through difficult times and to minister the love of God to those who are hurting. This is not just the job of pastors – we all need to realise that there will be times where we are the ones who can help someone who’s going through a time of grief.
Sometimes the hardest thing about wanting to help someone experiencing grief is that we simply feel unsure about what to say or how to act. How can we be a blessing at their time of need?
John 11:33 When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping (about Lazurus’ death), and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
v35: Jesus wept.
In this story we see how Jesus responded with compassion and action. Here we see both sides of Jesus: He was both fully God and yet also totally human; He experienced the full range of human emotion. He identifies with our pain, sorrow and suffering. What vast dimensions of Christ’s love are drawn together in this, the shortest of Bible verses?
Practical tips for helping others work through grief:
- Commit to the long haul. Recovery from loss is a process that continues over years. There is no right way or correct speed to move through the stages of recovery. It’s not a linear progression; there will be a series of ups and downs along the way.
- Be a good listener. Don’t worry if you don’t have any answers or the greatest advice. Often the best thing is just being able to give someone the time to express what they’re feeling.
- Talk naturally about the situation. Even though addressing the subject may be difficult, it’s usually better than avoiding it completely.
- Do send cards, messages and give phone calls, both initially, and over time; eg on anniversaries. We might think these are only small gestures, but they actually contribute to the recovery process more than we might realise.
- Pray for them. Get alongside them and ask if they’d like prayer. Pray for them privately. Prayer is powerful. The best news: Ps 23:3 He restores my soul. God can bring healing from the greatest loss.
- Develop empathy. Do your best to understand what they’re going through. You don’t have to have been through the same experience to relate to their pain and imagine how they might be feeling. Take the time to just sit with them. (Ez 3:15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed.)
- Don’t rush them or tell them what to do.
- Don’t impose if your attention is not welcome. At times, the griever may not be ready for what you have to offer; the timing or mood may not be appropriate.
- Avoid Christian clichés and pat answers.
- Maintain contact. Even if you are unsure of how best to respond, it’s better to offer love and care than to avoid contact or withdraw your friendship. Even if you say the ‘wrong’ thing, people will appreciate your care and concern.
- Let how they are feeling be a guide to your response. Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn (weep) with those who mourn.
- A little gentle humour employed with sensitivity at the right moment can help.
I hope we can all develop these skills of tact and care. When people around us are facing difficulties, we should be the ones who can offer to help them through. Let’s develop excellence in our ability to respond to the call to help others in their times of need.