Grief Resources – Podcasts, articles, & books on what to say, what not to say, on how to truly help someone who’s grieving
Our church has experienced some incredible loss lately. Several deaths in a span of weeks, a couple of lives suddenly gone too soon. One faithful family is walking through the unthinkable – unrelenting cancer for their 19-year-old daughter. The heaviness is palpable. Families are grieving and aching for a world with no more pain and brokenness. Others are wondering how to minister to these families, at a loss on what to say or do to bring comfort.
People will say the wrong things (I know I have). Some will say nothing because they don’t know what will bring solace (been there, too). I am not a counselor nor an expert on grief, but I have walked it personally and can speak from experience. And the best thing I can do is go to God’s Word to find what He has to say about it. I believe that’s the best thing we can do, too – offer God’s words and a quiet spirit to listen.
Mourn with Hope
In the face of loss, Scripture encourages mourning; in fact, Jesus modeled it. He wept for his friend Lazarus and withdrew for a time after John the Baptist was killed. The Israelites mourned for Moses, and also Aaron, for 30 days. The Egyptians mourned Jacob’s (Israel’s) loss for 70 days. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything, including a time to mourn.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matt. 5:4
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
And for the grieving, Scripture says:
God is close to the brokenhearted, he will save those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
When you are aching, God is near. When circumstances make it seem like God is distant, He is intimately close, waiting with His supernatural comfort. Grief is physically crushing, emotionally draining, and can make even the strongest believer question God’s goodness. But He is there, full of compassion and comfort. In your weakness, God can be your strength. Even when you think you can’t make one more decision or face one more reminder of their absence, God will meet you in your grief.
And when you don’t know how to pray, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on your behalf!
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
For the Christian, the greatest comfort is hope beyond simply a life well lived – it’s eternal life with the Savior. These are not platitudes or wishful thinking – there is a place where wretched words like cancer, addiction, aneurysms, depression, and symptoms of this broken world are healed. Completely. Fully. Forever.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1 Thess. 4:13
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Rev. 21:4
Do Not Fear
While the Bible doesn’t say “do not mourn” (when appropriate), a recurring theme is “do not fear.” So while we are anticipating death, physically aching over a loss, or mourning a life that never came, we can do so without being afraid. In grief, there is fear that things will never be the same. There is fear that you’ll never laugh again. There’s fear that the heaviness will never lift. Let God’s comfort and truth meet these fears.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” You came near when I called on you; you said, “Do not fear!” Lamen. 3:55-57
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deut. 31:8
This is one of my all-time favorite verses – God goes before you and never leaves you. We don’t have to be afraid (He’s gone ahead of us) or discouraged (He’s with us!); His presence comforts us and gives us courage!
What Not to Say…and a Few Suggestions
There are a lot of Christian “comfort phrases” that are true and even Scripture-based, but can be untimely and unwelcome in seasons of grief. “God has a plan.” “God works all things together for good.” “God is in control.” And the not-so-accurate: “God must’ve needed an angel.”
I know these phrases are wrapped in good intentions. But instead, try to find a word or song more aptly spoken. And I cannot stress this enough: simply listen without reprimand, do not hurry along their grieving process, or rush in to “cheer someone up” with distractions. The time will come for that – pray for discernment. Also, if people need to withdraw, give them that needed space.
Don’t be afraid to ask: “Can I take you to coffee?” “What do you like for dinner? I’m picking something up and bringing it by.” “Can I just sit with you?” And later, “Are you ready for some distractions? Let’s go to a movie, get a pedicure, or go-kart racing.” It’s even okay to communicate, “I don’t know exactly what you need, but I want to be here for you.” Finally, if you don’t know what to say, find a well-written card, include comforting verses and even a meal gift card to express your sympathy. And if you’re in their home, it wouldn’t hurt to do their dishes, fold laundry, or clean their bathroom – tasks that seem overwhelming when weighed down by loss.
It is a ministry to love others well in their darkest valleys. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but being willing to be uncomfortable for the benefit of others is a gift they won’t forget. I recall family and friends bringing food to the hospital while we were at my mother’s bedside. I remember friends coming for a special trip across the country to cheer me up and just listen after my mother’s death. I won’t forget the sweet, empathetic words from others who had lost their own mothers. And seven years later, grief still strikes me at times and I have a pressing need to talk about my Mom.
I will tell you, if you have come through a season of loss and found God faithful on the other side (oh, how He is!), you have so much to offer when helping bear the grief of a friend.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
To those grieving, you have the God of all comfort nearby. Mourn fully, but without fear. He is good and faithful, and can empathize wholly with your sorrow.
To those walking alongside the sorrowful, be gentle and faithful. Offer God’s words and your quiet presence.