Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans?” I have found that in the most unpredictable, most inconvenient and often most shocking ways that this statement can be true.
Just a few short weeks ago my family and I were on our way out of town for a much-needed vacation. We were cruising down the highway through the rolling hills of Wisconsin headed toward Chicago when I received a text from a friend. The content was not good.
A young man with whom we had spent a great deal of time (whose love for the Lord was remarkable, a wonderful son and friend and one who seemingly had a bright future serving the Lord in ministry) was gone. Just like that. Gone. No goodbyes, no hugs, no chance to share final thoughts or words. No kiss on the forehead or the chance to caress his face now quiet in eternal rest. Just gone.
I was speechless. The flood of feelings was overwhelming. The inability to think fast enough to respond “rightly” to my colleague’s text seemed next to impossible. Should it have been a consolation that he was on the mission field when it occurred? That he knew the Lord and was now forever with Him? Should scripture verses and hymns have come to mind with more immediacy than they did? Should I have been able to say, “It is well with my soul?”
Perhaps. But the realities of these blessed truths did not come before the grief and the sorrow set in and as I began the process of contacting individuals with whom I needed to share this news so they could prepare and respond to the inevitable calls that we as a staff would receive.
Two days later, another message came that a dear friend and colleague had lost her battle with cancer. By all means, I am grateful that she was a woman of profound faith. In fact, it gives me great joy and comfort. But in the quiet ponderings of my heart, I wondered, among many other things, what my words would be or should be upon seeing her husband, children and friends at her graveside.
Grief is not pretty, it is not clean, it does not respond to trite sayings and simplistic answers. Grief is sharp, sore, thick, heavy and burdensome. It is real and it is hard.
Grief does not only surface at the loss of a loved one, but crashes through our reality like a rock through a plate glass window, shattering our days into pieces when a job is lost to downsizing, a home is destroyed by a natural disaster, infertility or miscarriage leaves a desiring family empty, a child is consumed by addiction, a marriage is shipwrecked by infidelity or simply by lack of gentle and consistent tending.
Whatever bends the heart to breaking, we need the love, grace and mercy of God through the Body of Christ to help us through. What a wonderful opportunity is afforded us to be bearers of light, givers of grace, hands of healing, arms of embrace to those who are in need during such valuable times. Consider these questions as a place to begin seeking the Lord if you are in a place to support a family, friend, colleague, neighbor or even a stranger through a difficult time of transition:
- How, Lord, can I be an effective witness of your love, mercy and grace in this challenging moment?
- How can I bring comfort by my words and acts of love, kindness and service in a way that eases the burden of those who are grieving?
- What are things that would not be helpful for me to do or say in the freshness of this time of pain?
Some things to remember:
- God cares. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” God’s nearness is not simply a hope or a desire, but it is a promise that He gives to His precious children. As we journey with those who are hurting, we too can be a reflection of our Father’s heart and be near, as He is near to those who are hurting. How? Consider sitting quietly with them, cooking a meal together, going for a walk, assisting with daily chores to keep a home clean and manageable during a tough time. Weep with them (Rom. 12:15), offer rides to appointments, make a call at night before bedtime as a means of support as sleep may be hard to come by. Let your presence be felt in a way that offers comfort. Take cues to retreat when they need time alone.
- No words can be the best words. So often when there is pain and anguish, we as human beings desire to say something spiritually or personally encouraging or light in order to change a heavy mood. At that time, we may be tempted to quote scripture, or offer words that we think will be encouraging when in reality they may actually exacerbate the pain. Don’t underestimate the ministry of presence—the quiet, steady, consistent presence of your person can be immensely comforting, and in that moment is all that is needed.
- Prayer is always powerful. God hears us when we pray, when we call out to Him in need. Pray fervently (James 5:16) for those who are wounded; pray unceasingly (1 Thess. 5:17) and reverently for the situation and those involved. Pray and ask the Lord for wisdom, guidance, patience and understanding. Pray for the peace of God to bring comfort for the day and for the days ahead.