March 13, 2015

What to do with those who grieve

I have a lump in my throat as I write this... mostly because I have terribly, irrevocably failed at this with people that I love dearly. I usually run from grief in my life and in the lives of others, but in these last couple of years the Lord has kindly blocked the way and gently pushed my shoulders down to sit with others as they have grieved. It's been through this process (mostly through my missteps and failures) that I've learned a little bit about how to walk with someone through grief. I've also learned, from being an audience to their life, about how we as a culture (remember-- I'm the chief of sinners) just do not know how to interact with those in sorrow. So with that I humbly give you -- what to do with those who grieve...

Mourn with them
At the beginning, those who are grieving a loss are sitting on the sidelines of a very loud marching band. The clanging grief and trumpeting loneliness and rat-a-tat-tatting of questions is drowning out every.single. word of advice you are trying to give them. It's really best just to sit down beside of them, listen to the noise, and mourn with them. We don't mourn because we don't feel and we don't feel because we don't stop talking and just linger. Sit down with them and taste the sadness. Ask them how they are feeling. This absolutely means laying down your life and your schedule and your comfort-zone, but isn't that what love is?

Don't tell them why you think this happened to them
Oh, I know this is so hard because we so badly want to give things rhyme and reason.
"Maybe you didn't get that job because there is something else better for you."
"You'll get pregnant again soon with the baby that you are supposed to have."
"Sometimes when we make an idol out of things, God has to take them away."
Can we all just agree that we are not God and therefore really have no clue about the intricate, wise and good web that He is weaving? Sure, we might have a guess sometimes at the whats and whys of His good plans, but it's a sting to the heart of the griever that you would have more of an inside scoop about their lives than they do. 

Let them ask hard questions
If you are walking with a Christian through grief, you may be taken aback by some really hard questions they are asking: Is God really good? Why do the evil not suffer like me? Is there really any meaning in life? Is there a God? The easiest and most popular way out of engaging these questions is to say something like, "You don't really mean that!" I think we don't like to allow people to ask these hard questions because we don't want to admit that we've asked them too. And we don't want to admit that we've asked them too because we don't believe that Christians could possibly even entertain these hard questions. But let me tell you something- the askers of these questions do really mean them. And you do, too, when you ask. The Psalms alone do a good job at debunking the myth that Christians can't ask hard questions because they are chock-full of them.  And if the Psalms teach us how to pray then what God is telling us is to bring our hard questions to Him.... He is big enough and safe enough for us to grasp around for answers. In fact, it is much safer and more productive to ask these questions in prayer than to hide them in our hearts and let them fester. Don't discourage the griever from asking these questions, dialogue with them about it (this is always good for my faith, as they are asking questions that I might have been too prideful to ask), and ultimately encourage them to ask them in prayer. 

Pray with and for them
This seems trite and expected, but do you know the weight of prayer? A chance to come before the Healer and Redeemer on behalf of your hurting friend. Here, because of Jesus and the torn veil, we have access to ask for comfort, restoration, healing, things that seem unable to happen to the One who is able to do far more abundantly than all we could ask or think. As much and as often as you can, pray with them. Sometimes they will feel so feeble and disoriented with their relationship with God that you will have the privilege of literally taking their hand and leading them into the presence of a God who cares about them. Too often, I try to be their only counselor when their true need is to be led to the Mighty Counselor... in whose hands I can trust them more than my own.

Stay with them for the long-haul
If you have been through grief of any kind, and we all have, then you know that there is a period of time in which your grief is almost glamorous to be a part of. In the beginning you will have more text messages and flowers and visitors and casseroles than you know what to do with. And then, one day, people stop asking how you are doing. One day, people avoid eye contact with you because they don't have the time to talk. One day, people just forget about this grief and loss that still follows you around like a shadow every day. We can love those who are grieving well by walking slowly with them, in the day to day, as others spring in and out of their lives. This doesn't mean a fanfare of casseroles every week but it does mean that letting them talk about their pain, yes even a year later, doesn't have a time limit.

Speak truth and point to Jesus
Speaking truth is last on the list for a reason. If a starving child came to you asking for food, would you first talk to him about how good God is and how God wants to take care of his needs? You would of course, I presume, first feed the child and meet his immediate physical needs before giving a sermon on the God who provides. In the same way, those who are grieving have legitimate needs to be heard, known, comforted, loved before they even have the ability to hear truth. Of course, all of the above should be seasoned with the gospel. We can mourn with others because we have an Elder Brother who is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. We don't try to tell them the whys because we know Jesus is the Author and perfecter of their faith, not us. We let them ask hard questions because Jesus asked the hardest question, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and because of His momentary abandonment we can never be abandoned. We can pray with them because we have a mediator in Jesus who is standing at the right hand of the Father pleading with Him on our behalf. We can have the strength to stay with them for the long-haul because we have a Jesus who never grows weary of our troubles.

I want to be better at loving my sisters and brothers in their grief. Would you join me?

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