Grief is a powerful emotion. It disconnects us from reality. It hits us at our very core where we feed the pain of loss and depression at the very heart of who we are. It can impact us out of nowhere in the sudden loss of a friend from a heart attack or a talk at dinner that your parents are divorcing. And you have so little control over grief as it slams into you, wave after wave of overwhelming sadness, frustration, and loneliness.
Yet, we have a community. For those who grieve, we can have hope in our fellow Christians. For those who support and grieve with us well, we will find rest. For us who can be that support, we may be the lighthouse that points people to Jesus as we care and listen to those hurting.
What Is Grief?
Grief at its core is a specific type of depression that is fixated on the loss or absence of something important in one’s life and gave meaning to the individual. We easily associate grief with the death of a loved one and can see why.
If someone dies suddenly, we never get to say goodbye. Our world, which had a huge part played by this person, is now shaken. Other times grief starts at the news from a doctor of a terminal illness or as the health is fading of the person we love. We say goodbye, even unconsciously, in those moments and then the next time we see them again, we say goodbye once more.
Grief is not something that just happens in the moment. In fact, many times those who are close to the individuals who die may struggle with depression for more than a year. Weeks after they are gone, the pain starts to subside, but then you have your first Christmas and birthday without them, the first Father’s Day or summer vacation and they are not there. For more significant depression, such as the loss of a child or lose several family members in an accident that was also traumatizing, this grief can last a decade or more.
In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes about the loss of his wife and the spiritual wrestling that can happen, including this need to grieve long after everyone else has stopped, never losing its intensity.
Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again. . . . In grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. . . . How often . . . will vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.A Grief Observed , page 56.
Further, depression can be about other losses. Grief comes to someone who lost a twenty-year job or discovered their spouse wants a divorce. Grief can come from the loss of a house to a fire or even after attempting to commit suicide. Imagine the shame, guilt, and fear that comes with this. It is all loss and in our depressive state, we grieve.
How Do We Support One Another In Grief?
The difficult problem with supporting someone in grief is that we need to put ourselves in their shoes. If we ourselves are grieving, it may be too hard for us to empathize with others. Or we may be disconnected from the day-to-day pain of grief a couple of months later while the person grieving has been dreading an upcoming anniversary date and we attempt to solve their grief instead of connecting with and understand them. If we are to be effective, we must get on their level of discomfort and sit in the pain with them.
Greg Morse, a staff writer for John Piper’s blog desiringgod.org writes on what we can do to help:
Much of what I know, I’ve learned from doing it wrong. But from my experience of trying to help the grieving that I cannot readily identify with, my only consistent thought is: Do not turn away from those who are grieving.“A Grief Misunderstood“
Paul’s words about how to help those who are suffering are short and clear:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Romans 12:15
For those who would like to have practical tips to help others mourn or for those who are currently mourning and do not know what to ask for, use these:
- Offer Words Of Comfort. I say this with a bit of unease because many times we think we are being helpful by saying “you just need to pray” or “why don’t you let it go?” but what you are doing is driving a wedge between them and you. If you want to share words of comfort, use “I statements” and deep empathy. Offer no “fixes” to what they are experiencing.
- Simply Listen. This means offering no solutions, cry with them when they cry and ask lots of open-ended questions. Why do they still mourn? How can you empathize with them?
- Offer Rides. If the whole family is grieving and they have children, consider helping take kids to activities, babysit at times where the family can plan funeral arrangements, and take people to church events.
- Give. Whether you are making a casserole or sharing clothing and other items, give abundantly and with cheer. Evidence has found one of the best things first-responders can give people in a traumatic event is a stuffed animal or hot coffee. It takes care of a need, helps you connect with them, and addresses something other than the “fix” for their grief.
- Pray. I’ve found short prayers with them after I’ve listened are best. Long prayers as I wake up and fall asleep, long after having talked with the individual is even better. And then let them know you are still praying for them, weeks and months later.
We actually did a poll of our audience to see what you would prefer to do from two options: offer words of comfort or simply listen. The results are interesting:
We see a great example of what Christians must do in the Scripture where Jesus says to the lawyer as a teaching moment in Luke about the Good Samaritan.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”Luke 10:36-37
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
When we go and find someone struggling in their grief, let us give them mercy.
Let me leave you with a benediction from Paul to the Corinthians as they were the church who struggled with division and unwilling to support their fellow Christians:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.2 Corinthians 1:3–7