Do you have a friend or family member who is suffering? Who is grieving? For those of us on the other side, it can feel paralyzing. What do we say? How can we help? What is appropriate or inappropriate?
No one wants to be a miserable comforter to a friend in suffering. But this is Job's description of his friends in the aftermath of his losses:
"I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you. . . . My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he would argue the case of a man with God, as a son of man does with his neighbor" (Job 16:2–4, 20–21).
You can hear the longing in Job's words for friends that would stop telling him what to do and simply be in the wrestling with him, that they would plead with God with him. But shouldering the suffering of others, feeling the weight of the unanswered questions and unresolved tension, is uncomfortable. It's easier to give blanket statements and quote Bible verses. But often those are the very promises someone in suffering is wrestling with. The question of someone in grief isn't, "Do you have the answer?" It's. "Will you sit with me in the dissonance of my unanswered questions?"
In yesterday's post, I shared about our three miscarriages and offered encouragement to those walking through similar seasons of suffering. Today I hope to share a few practical things you can do for a loved one who is grieving.
1. Recognize the loss of life.
With the death of every loved one, this is all we want to hear from others: "I'm so sorry you've lost something so special." With miscarriage it can be tempting to minimize that life, but this is not helpful in the grieving process. A miscarriage is the death of a person. A tiny, unborn person. Many times people inadvertently minimized the lives I lost by saying:
I'm sure your next pregnancy will work out better.
This happens to a lot of women; I'm sure nothing is wrong.
It just wasn't meant to be.
Each time someone tried to cheer me up by minimizing what I had lost, my soul was screaming, "But it mattered to me! That life was precious to me!" Instead, find ways to show that you understand something valuable has been lost. My favorite way to do this is to send flowers. We do this anytime someone dies. It's an expression of sympathy and honoring the loved one who is gone. Buy a small plant, a simple floral arrangement, and leave a note: "In memory of your little one. We love you." This type of heartfelt expression goes a long way.
I lost our third baby in December. When that month rolls around, I have a few good friends who bring up the memory of our miscarried children. Truly, just remembering and asking means the world. Years later, they still recognize that I lost something valuable.
2. Don't fear sadness.
It's hard for us to see the purpose in sadness. It becomes an emotion we hope to push past quickly, moving into the other more enjoyable emotions. But sorrow is healthy in the appropriate seasons. Become a person who is comfortable with sadness, someone who doesn't respond to every grief-filled comment with, "He works all things for good!"
The latest Pixar movie, Inside Out, did a great job showcasing the purpose of sadness by personifying our emotions. One of my favorite scenes begins as Bingbong has lost something precious to him. Joy attempts to move him quickly out of his grief to no avail. Then Sadness steps in and welcomes his grief, which ultimately helps him. (Watch this scene here.)
Sadness: "I'm sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It's gone. Forever."
Bingbong: "It's all I had left of Riley."
Sadness: "I bet you and Riley had great adventures."
Bingbong: "Oh, they were wonderful. Once we flew back in time and had breakfast twice that day."
Sadness: "That sounds amazing. I bet Riley liked it."
Bingbong: "Oh, she did. We were best friends."
Sadness: "Yeah, it's sad."
(They both cry together.)
Bingbong: "I'm okay now."
Now, it might sound silly for me to use a kid's movie for a good example of how to love a friend who is grieving, but honestly, it's such a perfect example! Sadness does the opposite of what most of us do naturally—she acknowledges what is lost and how utterly lost that thing is: "It's gone forever." She creates a safe place for Bingbong to express why that lost thing was so precious. And she doesn't try to fix it or patch it up. So simple, yet just what we want when we're grieving.
Be a friend who doesn't get scared by sadness; work to become comfortable with the raw grief of others.
3. Offer your presence, not a solution.
Job's friends started off well by doing just this:
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place. . . . They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:11–13).
They simply came and sat with Job, no words necessary. What can that look like? To offer your presence to someone? It can literally look just like that—offering to come and sit in silence. I like to offer my grieving friends a hug: "If you need a hug today, let me know." All I am saying is that my presence is available if you want it. If you don't live near, this could be sending things that remind her of you, like a candle she can burn and be reminded that you're there for her.
In one of my first seasons of suffering, a friend of mine came to my house while I was gone and decorated my room with colored Christmas lights, hung some of my favorite Bible verses on the wall, and left a plate of brownies. That meant the world to me. In effect, she communicated, "I want you to remember when you walk into your room that you aren't alone. I'm here for you." That forever changed how I comforted others in their grief.
4. Plead with God.
Be the comforter that Job wished he had—"a man that pleads with God." Know that there are lots of questions birthed from suffering. It is often the entrance gate to the tumultuous field of wrestling alone with God. Plead on her behalf for strength for that journey, for courage to move forward when it's painful, for faith to listen for God's answers when she doesn't really care to hear them, for grace for the battlefield of grief. Be an intercessor, and plead with God as if it were you on that rocky path.
Stay in the Word and pray the Word for your grieving friends. And may God be glorified by how His people mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.