When someone is grieving there are no words you can speak to make it any better.
However, there are things you can say to make it worse.
I spend a decent amount of time around people who are hurting. Over the past few years I have preached hundred(s) of funerals for families who don’t have a minister. I have counseled families who have lost loved ones to suicide, depression, cancer and even murder. I have stood at the casket with too many young widows and their children as their family has become yet another victim to our nation’s drug epidemic or opioid crisis. All of this is on top of my regular duties as a pastor, where I often counsel people through issues of divorce, abuse, betrayal, adultery, depression, eating disorders, death, addiction, family conflict, financial hardship and sexual identity.
People are hurting. Unfortunately, most of the time I don’t possess the magic words to make it all better.
During the time of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people began a practice called “Sitting Shiva.” This practice was common during a time of mourning over death and usually helped with the grieving process quite well. The process goes like this:
When a friend experiences death, you simply go to their house and sit for seven days. You have no agenda other than to simply sit and listen, letting the person know you are there. If they want to talk, you talk. If they remain silent, you remain silent. Sometimes the person would read the Torah if they felt the timing was appropriate. Your job is to practice the ministry of presence.
When a friend is grieving, you can do nothing better than spend time and listen.
Sometimes when we try to make things better, we end up making them worse. Our motives are pure but our actions bring more pain to the people we love. What we say may be true but it may not be the right time to share that truth with someone in a painful situation.
Most of the time, people have to come to hard realizations on their own. As believers, we must share the Scripture, but we have to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our timing and approach.
Over the summer my wife and I had a miscarriage. Obviously, this has been one of the most difficult seasons of life we’ve ever experienced. It hurts. Nothing hurts like losing a child … and yes, a baby in the womb is a child.
We have received a lot of encouragement from our friends, family, and church family. We both feel very loved and supported. Yet, a few people have made well-intentioned comments that brought us more pain than comfort.
If I could only offer one suggestion, it is this: You don’t know how they feel.
Even if you’ve been through the same situation, you haven’t been through their situation. The details are different. Even though you’re trying to help, it is often perceived as insensitive and trying to downplay one’s trauma. Sometimes perception is reality.
Proverbs 25:11 says “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” To those in affliction, a kind word spoken at the right time tastes better than the finest fruit taken from the most tropical paradise.
Andy Waits is youth pastor at First Baptist Church-Springville.