It is a terrible reality that by living in a fallen world we will all be faced at various times with grief and bereavement. One of the most significant ministries that a church can engage in is a ministry of comforting those experiencing loss. The words and actions of people make a difference, for either good or ill, when faced with traumatic times.
When my wife’s brother died in the early ‘90s due to complications from AIDS, we heard some comforting words, and we heard calloused words that simply did not help. Phrases such as, “Well, you know he just reaped what he sowed!” and, “You should move on and forget him,” were not only unhelpful but downright hurtful. On the other hand, there were people who offered a genuine and heartfelt “I’m sorry,” or hugs with no words attached.
In the first chapter of the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians, the word “comfort” is used ten times in five verses (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It is a beautiful word; one for which the Apostle Paul knew all too well for the many times he faced his own set of trials and tribulations. He understood God’s design that those who have seen the face of evil and overcame are in the best position to give grace to those who need it most.
Grief attaches itself to any significant change or loss. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or health, or the empty nest syndrome, or any of a number of losses, it is both natural and necessary to grieve. Most people are familiar with the five stages of grief, observed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:
- Denial – “I’m ok” or “this can’t be happening”
- Bargaining – “if only…”
We are to come alongside and walk with another through grief, offering helpful words and actions, until the person can accept the new situation and move on. With any change or loss, there becomes a new normal that we must adjust to. Everyone’s grief is personal; each individual moves through their own stages of grief, and each one moves on their own timetable. Sometimes people get “stuck” in one stage and need help getting out.
The way people get unstuck, and the way they come to resolution and acceptance is through telling their story. So, our role is to listen well. Our place is neither to give advice, nor to quote a lot of scripture about how everything will be okay. Our place is to let the grieving person grieve, and come out the other end having grieved well. Grieving well can only happen if we listen well to those in grief. We will not listen well if we do not respect the reality that we all must grieve.
What is more, God always has a listening ear. He knows grief and bereavement better than all of us, because he experienced seeing the agonizing death of his one and only Son. And it is through Jesus that genuine acceptance is realized. Because Christ died and rose again, there is a future resurrection awaiting us and our loved ones. May you, by faith, enter into life that is truly life by embracing Jesus Christ. May your grief be turned to joy, and may your comfort overflow.