As the news is undoubtedly finding its way around, this past Saturday evening, one of members, and her younger sister were involved in a quad accident that claimed the younger sister’s life. In the face of such a tragedy, those who are part of their church family often struggle in what to do and what to say for the grieving family. What follows is some advice from me, as your pastor, to you, as a congregation as to how you can be the hands and feet of Christ for those who are going through a difficult time.
1. Your presence is often all that’s needed
As a community of “do-ers”, this is the thing we probably struggle with the most. We want to help, but we don’t always know what to do, or what to say. Often, we do or say things that are (unintentionally) unhelpful. These can be unhelpful because they have their origins in our own needs more than the needs of the person or people we are trying to support. This is why I say our simple presence is more than enough. Consider Job’s friends when he experienced such catastrophic grief. When they heard the news, they immediately went to their friend’s home. Once they got there, they did nothing but sit in silence with him for 7 days (Job 2:11-13). When they eventually began to speak and try to explain Job’s sufferings, or provide him with words of comfort, they did not make Job feel any better. Or consider Jesus when he came to the home of Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. With Martha he gave a simple and straightforward message of hope, but with Mary he simply wept (John 11:21-35). Sometimes, all we need to do is simply be present.
2. The devil is in the details
This is a terrible expression anyway, but it carries even greater significance in times like these. Asking too many questions about the details can allow the devil to work. They can create anger, frustration, doubts, and anxiety in the grieving party. We are naturally curious and want to know what happened, how and when. These questions are almost always unhelpful, because, again, they are more about our curiosity than they are about the needs of the person or people we want to support. People will share what they want, when they want to. This also means, too, that we will need to give space. Maybe an initial point of contact to simply let them know you are there, followed up with the same message a day or two later. In nearly all cases of grief, less is more: the less we want to know, the more helpful we can be. Again, simply being present can be enough.
3. The best way we can be helpful is to PRAY
I cannot stress this one enough. Even though we may want to be able to do something practical to help or offer some encouraging words of support, the best way we can support others in times of grief is pray. Pray for them. Pray with them. The Psalms are filled with heart-felt and honest cries to God from His people and for His people. When we are experiencing grief or crisis, it can often be the most difficult time to pray. The prayers of a friend (or brother or sister in Christ) in our behalf can be far more encouraging than words of encouragement, explanations, or questions. Often, as those who are trying to support another in times of crisis, the only thing we feel we can do is pray. And pray we should. Pray we must. and in our prayers we truly come alongside those in need and speak to God in their behalf, asking for His comfort, strength, and peace.