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Comforting Words

Comforting Words

Hello Church Family,

Wow, what a difficult week for our church. On one day alone, three people connected to Northpoint passed away, while others were hospitalized or treated with major injuries or setbacks.

Late Tuesday night, I stood in the front yard with a grieving family who’d just lost their husband and father to an unthinkable accident. In one moment, this man’s life was taken, leaving behind a wife and three children. Surrounded by relatives and neighbors, this mom understandably remained stunned and confused, which prompted the questions: what words are helpful in times like these? And, what counsel should be avoided? With so many loving people in our congregation, I’ve been asked numerous times over the past few days: “What do you say to someone who’s suffered such terrible loss?”

It’s a great question, and one to which there is no magic answer. The mourning process takes time, and often grief lingers far beyond expected timetables. However, there are a few biblical principles that, when lovingly applied, can slowly facilitate healing to those who are hurting:

Listen first. The Proverbs remind us that “he who answers before listening does so to his folly and shame (18:13).” To my own regret, I’ve rushed into plenty of situations with biblical solutions before ever listening to the one who is suffering. After nearly fourteen years of pastor ministry, I’ve learned that the best approach is to allow the hurting person to speak. Simply inviting someone to “tell me what happened” often has a cathartic benefit, as the person is afforded the chance to invite others into the struggle. Pastor and author, Brian Croft, reminds: “Too few words are much more profitable than too many. Those suffering will feel more loved by us if we sympathize, not rationalize. Therefore, listen, don’t solve.”

Let them know they’re not alone. The Psalmist tells us that God is especially close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). Of course, God is fully present everywhere at every moment, but He makes His presence uniquely felt to those who are desperate and crushed. When someone loses a loved one, the natural response is to feel abandoned. As I ministered to the dear woman I referenced above, she kept repeating, “My husband has been stolen from me.” At the right time, it’s helpful to remind those who are mourning that they are not alone. God is here. And secondly, so are we. Even though some people prefer solitude as they process loss, no one wants to feel alone. The assurance of the presence of our Father and His church can be like cold water to a thirsty soul.

Don’t try to answer the “why” question. The first thing that a person in mourning is inclined to ask is: “Why?” This is completely understandable. But as much as we might like to hazard a guess, it’s not a question that we can answer. Any sort of surmising can only lead to harm. In Deuteronomy 29, Moses comforts the people of Israel with this truth: “The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).” As we talked about as a church on Sunday, although God does tell us His macro-reason for allowing trials into our lives—to strengthen our faith so that we will persevere until the end—He doesn’t tell us the micro-reasons. That’s where faith comes in. The only appropriate answer to the question, “Why?” is “I don’t know. But God does. And He loves you and can be trusted.”

Give them hope: this life is not all there is. Since the fall of mankind, a chief motivation for perseverance among trials has been this: the hope that this heartbreak will not last forever. Something better is on the other side. That realization inspired hope among the persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany; it inspired hope among the African-American slaves of the 18th century, who often filled their days with songs about the world to come; and it inspires hope in all of those who are in Christ. What we have to look forward to, that no one can take away, that is better than anything we can even imagine, is eternal life with Jesus and all the believers that have gone before us. Without resorting to platitudes like, “You’re going to be just fine” or “You don’t deserve this,” there is comfort in hearing: “You will see her again, in the presence of Jesus.”

Pray with them. Putting a hand on a person’s shoulder and praying with him is not a perfunctory duty. It is the means by which God pours out His mercy and power in our situation. When there’s no prayer, there’s no power. Without prayer, nothing of any value can be accomplished. Because without prayer, we operate in our own strength. And we can’t lift the burden off another’s soul. We can’t cause someone to see beauty in disaster. We can’t enable trust in despair. But God can do all these things. And does. In a thousand ways, through our intercession, God reassures those who are in pain of His unending love.

Demonstrate love. While a tender reminder that “I love you” is always fitting, if it is not accompanied by action it can seem hollow and insincere. As James, the brother of Jesus points out, if a person is hopeless and destitute and we offer kind words but no help, what good is it? To be sure, words are powerful. But not when they are alone. Some practical ways to help the hurting include: cleaning the house, providing meals, babysitting, going grocery shopping, and picking up kids from school. Your overtures may be rejected, but they may be enthusiastically accepted. Consider this an opportunity to be creative in showing love.

Certainly, there are other things that can be said and done. But this provides, at least, a framework for providing spiritual care. I’m thankful to be part of a church where so many express and show love. May God use our efforts for His glory and the good of those who are grieving.

Pastor John