There are a lot of things people say when they’re trying to comfort people who are grieving. Some of them are appropriate. Too often though, well-meaning words make me cringe. You know the kinds of things people say: “He’s in a better place,” or “There’s a reason for everything.” Think about what someone is saying: he used to be with you, but now he’s better off; or put away your grief because this (problem, death, illness) has a rational excuse for happening. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy phrase is when someone tries to comfort the parent of a child who has died by saying “God needed another angel.” Really? With all those angels in heaven, God couldn’t spend time with them so He had to take a child from parents who are perhaps left childless or at least with one less child? And no, they can’t just “have another one” because another one doesn’t fill up the hole that the deceased child leaves.
I have no doubt that each of those phrases, and others like them, are designed to show love and comfort for someone who’s grieving and I applaud those people for being there. At the same time, though, we need to be careful as we deal with people who are grieving. The most important thing we can do is be there. People don’t always need to hear our words, but they always need to feel our heart. Job had that problem with his friends. When they first came over, they did the right thing – they sat in silence. After that, they decided to “help” Job by confronting him about his sin. They “knew” that if Job would just recognize his sin and confess it to God, things would get better. After everyone had their say a couple of times, Job got a little sarcastic. “Then Job replied: ‘How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble! What advice you have offered to one without wisdom! And what great insight you have displayed!’” (Job 26:1-3)
Job is one of the most difficult books of the Bible for me to read. First, God allows Satan to take Job beyond the limits of human endurance because Job was the most righteous man on earth. That may be one of the reasons I never wanted to be the most righteous man on earth – I’d settle for second on that list. Then, the friends seek to comfort Job with words that are laughable (from the outside) in context – and yet, if we were to read much of what was said by the friends without the context of the story of Job, most of us would nod our heads at the sage advice being given. Of course bad things that happen to us are related to our sins. Of course we need to confess our sins to God to bring redemption. Except, of course, that wasn’t what happened in Job’s case. Job was righteous in God’s eyes and he suffered in ways we can’t even imagine. If the story of Job doesn’t mess with your theology, you really have to examine your theology!
But, back to the issue at hand. How do we deal with people in their struggles and their grief? Let’s begin with the obvious: show up. Be there for your friend. If they are the kind that likes hugs, hug them. If they don’t like hugs, any physical touch that they’re ok with is important. Never invade their personal space in a way that bothers them, but that physical touch is important if they are ok with it. Let them know about your love and your availability. Pray with them if it’s appropriate, or at least pray for them. People dealing with grief don’t need sermons, and, this is a hard one for us guys, they don’t really need solutions. What they need and want is our presence and our prayers. The truth is that you don’t always need to break the silence of grief. Sometimes, the most respectful thing we can do is honor that silence and honor the person grieving.
Oh Lord, remind me that sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is shut up and be there for people who are hurting. Let me be a comfort to others when they’re hurting, and not a thorn in the flesh.