Preaching about bereavement here at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman on Sunday was almost as intimidating as it was a privilege. Having an albeit limited amount of training and experience in grief counselling, it has been a concern of mine for a number of years that many people are suffering great, debilitating and ongoing pain from unresolved grief. The opportunity to address that from a Biblical perspective was wonderful, and as I looked in the faces of a number of people on Sunday who are in the dark hole of grief right now, it was a reminder that the comfort they need can only come from God, and yet there is much that we can do to channel that comfort, point people to our gracious Saviour, and just BE THERE for them.
I wanted to use this space just to paste a fuller list of the points I made aimed at helping people support those who are suffering with grief:
i. Don’t try to fix them
Ø You can’t, and to act as if you can is insulting their intelligence and denying them the validity of their grief (e.g. “They will live forever in your memory” – no, they won’t. There will be a memory of them in your memory, which you treasure and enjoy. But they don’t live there.)
Ø Not even with Bible verses
People sometimes have enough self-awareness to realize that they can’t fix the grieving person, so they try to get God to fix them instead by quoting Bible verses at people like they’re handing out Advil. “Here you go – read this verse, you’ll feel better”. Maybe you’ve picked a brilliant verse about God’s sovereignty or his plans for his people, but if you present it as a cure, you’re hurting more than helping. There is no cure, there is only comfort. God’s comfort. Take God’s love to people at these times more than his sovereignty.
ii. Don’t tell them you know how they feel.
They don’t know how they feel, much less you. The fact that you’ve lost someone, the fact that you
and they may both have lost, say, your respective fathers…it doesn’t matter how similar your situations, you don’t know how they feel. The fact of your having lost someone and are still trusting your Saviour will encourage them that God can bring them through too. Claiming to know how they feel won’t.
iii. Do what Job’s friends did at first / If in doubt, keep your mouth shut.
Or even tell them you don’t know what to say, but you know they’re hurting.
“When they saw [Job] from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 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.”
Note that for this first week, the amount of suffering was inversely proportional to the amount of talking!
iv. Do give them God’s comfort (1 Cor 1:3-4)
Sympathise, love, and seek to bring comfort without judgement. This isn’t about you or what you think about grief, it’s about them, their suffering, and their need to cling on to the God of all comfort.
v. Do give specific offers of help
(e.g. “Can I bring you dinner on Tuesday?”) rather than general ones (e.g. “Give me a call if there’s anything I can do for you”). They’re completely incapable of working out what they need to do, never mind asking someone to do it for them. When we have people round for dinner and someone sees me cooking and asks if there’s anything they can do to help, I tell them yes there is. When they ask what that is, I tell them I have no idea. If they’d asked me the previous day, when I wasn’t in the middle of it, I could have easily given them a task, but when I’m in the middle of cooking…no chance. Same kind of deal, a thousand times worse, when someone is grieving.
vi. Do pray
vii. Do make church a place that bereaved people want to be
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Cor 12:26)
Ø Do we reject all thoughts of judging their grief?
Ø Do we hold out God’s comfort?
Ø Do we do more than hope someone else is caring for them?
Ø Do we find out the birthdays or anniversaries of the ones they’ve lost? Or give them particular comfort over Christmas?
viii. If you want to ask them how they are, make sure you’re prepared for a proper and full answer. If you don’t want a proper and full answer, think of a different question.
ix. Do treat them like normal, uncontagious human beings
x. Don’t rationalize the death, e.g. “God always takes the best ones early” or “They had a long/full life”
xi. Don’t ignore them
xii. Don’t judge how they’re feeling by how they’re looking.
A cheerful face does not mean they’re doing well, and it does not mean they’re more full of faith compared to the person who looks depressed.
xiii. Don’t worry that you can make someone’s grief worse. You can’t, any more than you can cure it. Next to the death of their family member, your insensitive comment is next to nothing.
xiv. Don’t try to offer a silver lining, e.g. “Well at least you’ll be able to get that wallpaper changed at last”
That’s not intended as a definitive or full list, but as a contribution to a neglected area.