Let People Grieve

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2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, [4] who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. [5] For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

Recently, as a pastor and friend, something has been bothering me. When people suffer, Christians are sometimes the worst people to be around. Why? Because of that fact that Christianity is a religion of hope, some Christians seem to believe that if you are not saying something full of hope in EVERY single situation/conversation in which someone does not seem to have hope, you are failing Christ. Nobody wants to feel like they are failing Christ. So, in an effort to serve Christ faithfully, one vomits cliches. After all, we have to say something, right?

Job’s friends were amazing friends for the first 7 days they visited Job. The Bible says,

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. [12] When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. [13] Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Seven days. Great suffering. Silence. Friends who offered hope via presence. The book of Job tells us that the moment that the three friends started speaking was when they went horribly wrong.

Now, I definitely believe that there are moments, albeit sensitive, that require a word of hope. Christians should use their tongue to bring life (Proverbs 18:21). There are moments to speak up, give hope, share light. However, my problem lately with many Christians is the insensitive, insecure need that is driving so many people to run their mouth no matter whether they are serving the suffering person well or not.

The scary, serious truth is that many of us Christians are going around saying things for our benefit, not the person who is hurting. A word must be said at all cost. It is as if Christians feel like they are doing Jesus an injustice if they do not speak this MAJOR word of encouragement every time they encounter a person who is not having the best day of his/her life. And though most Christians mean well, damage is being done. People, including Christians who are suffering, are having to hide in order to avoid the barrage of easily packaged statements meant to jerk you out of your grief.

I AM CONVINCED that many Christians are trying too hard to say something positive to people who are suffering, and I believe I know why. We are restless comfort-junkies. If someone we care about is suffering, we want them to stop. Right now. Immediately. Everybody just be happy. It will get better. This too shall pass. You are still young. That person is in a better place. And yes, many of these statements may be true, but that does not mean you need to say one of them at that particular moment.

Can you let someone suffer?
Can you let someone grieve?
Can you let someone travel through the stages of grief, knowing that it is actually a very healthy and spiritual thing for that person to do?
Can you let a person cry in your presence while you simply sit there and allow him or her to finish?
Can someone share something with you and you not jump to your feet?
Can you sometimes just say, “I am sorry you are having to go through this. Can I at least pray for you?”

Give comfort at all times, give your words at the right time.

When Jesus’ disciples reported that John the Baptist had been beheaded, the Bible says, “When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone” (Matt.14:13). I love this. There might not be a better picture of Jesus’ humanity than this piece of Scripture. Jesus was hurting. Jesus was sad. He went to be alone in order to grieve the loss of a family member, friend, and disciple. John’s death rocked his world. His heart was exposed. John would be missed. And Jesus need some time (though it would get interrupted by the disciples and crowd – hmmm, what an accurate picture).

As children of God, we need to let His love in our hearts so that we can be secure, at rest, and at peace with God and ourselves. Only then will we not feel like we have go around saying something at every turn in order to feel better about ourselves.

So use discernment. When it is time to speak, make sure you speak. But if someone’s world has just crashed, it may be awhile before you are suppose to say anything. Serve Jesus by remembering you are not God. Serve others by allowing them the dignity to go through the process of grieving. It is ok if they suffer for awhile. It is ok if they are not better first thing in the morning. It is ok if next week they feel even more depressed. It is ok if it takes them a few months to catch a glimmer of light.

Just be there. The time for words will come, and by then, your speech will be seasoned with grace.

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