Giving Comfort to Hurting People
People need to feel loved. A hurting child needs to feel his father’s arms around him. When the father is away, he may leave written words of love, as God has in his Word. But he may also call on the child’s older brothers and sisters to express his love to his child.
To ignore someone’s pain is to add to that pain. Instead of fearing we’ll say the wrong thing, we should reach out to hurting people. Many times it’s better just to put our arms around someone and cry with them; people almost always appreciate it when you acknowledge their loss. Yet so long as your heart is right, saying something is nearly always better than saying nothing.
There is a time for silence, to just sit and listen and weep with those who weep. We often condemn Job’s friends, but we should remember that they started well. When they saw his misery, they wept aloud. And then for seven days and nights they sat with him, in silence, wordlessly expressing their concern for him (see Job 2:11–13). Later, when they began giving unsolicited advice and rebuke, Job not only had to deal with his suffering, but with his friends’ smug responses, which added to his suffering.
When someone in pain expresses raw emotions, we shouldn’t scold them. Friends let friends share honest feelings.
Darrell Scott told me that after his daughter Rachel was murdered at Columbine, people often quoted Romans 8:28 to him. He wasn’t ready to hear it. How sad that such a powerful verse, cited carelessly or prematurely, becomes a source of pain when it should offer great comfort. Think of God’s truths like tools. Don’t use a hammer when you need a wrench. And don’t use either when you need to give someone a hug, a blanket, or a meal—or just weep with them.
Don’t disappear or avoid your friend who needs you now more than ever. If you find yourself not wanting to make a phone call when you hear about someone’s crisis, remind yourself that any expression of concern is better than none. When people lose a loved one, they don’t want to “move on” as if the person never existed. Even if doing so makes them cry, usually they want and need to talk about them.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). We tend to do better at rejoicing. Because we don’t like to feel pain, we tend to ignore others’ pain. But they need us to become the arms of Christ to them If we’re not there for them, who will be?
Books and Resources for Those Who Are Grieving
[Find these books at your local Christian bookstore or online at christianbook.com.]
Children and Grief: Helping Your Child Understand Death by Joey O’Connor: resource to help children deal with death, loss and grief.
Experiencing Grief by Norman Wright: a classic book on grief that leads readers through five essential stages of grief.
Five Cries of Grief: One Family’s Journey to Healing by Merton and Irene Strommen: written from a grieving parent’s perspective, provides strength, insight, and renewal for those who are grieving.
Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg: booklet that guides readers through the ten stages of grief.
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser: shows that it’s how we respond to painful circumstances that allows us to experience growth in the midst of grief.
Holding On To Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie: excellent book that is biblical, theologically sound, compassionate, and caring.
Journeying through Grief: a set of four short books to share with grieving people throughout the first year after their loss. (Available from stephenministries.org.)
Letter to a Grieving Heart: Comfort and Hope for Those Who Hurt by Billy Sprague and John MacMurray: shares words of comfort that carried the author through grief to a place of strength. Illustrated with photographs by John MacMurray.
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God by various authors (contributors include John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and Randy Alcorn): A collection of writings encouraging believers to face death with a firm and confident belief in the character and promises of God.
The Promise of Heaven by Randy Alcorn: focuses on key questions about Heaven, and contains a clear presentation of the gospel. Includes stunning photos by John MacMurray, giving it the look and feel of a gift book, easily passed on to believers and unbelievers. (Available from epm.org.)
Reflections of a Grieving Spouse: The Unexpected Journey from Loss to Renewed Hope by Norman Wright: help for those who have lost a spouse.
Tear Soup by Chuck DeKlyen, Taylor Bills, and Pat Schwiebert: a story picture book, beneficial for both children and adults.
When Life is Changed Forever By the Death of Someone by Rick Taylor: speaks to wounded hearts and offers a hope that life can be lived fully again.
When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One: Finding Hope Together by Dave and Nancy Guthrie: guides readers through the challenges of keeping their family together and strong.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of EPM's quarterly newsletter Eternal Perspectives.