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LIFTTTing the Grieving

How to speak love to those suffering loss

The Book of Job records 3 friends who sought to comfort their suffering friend. In the end both Job and God call them poor comforters. They made several mistakes:

  • They spoke about things they did not understand They tried to tell Job what God was doing when they (like the rest of us) cannot truly know what God is doing in any particular situation.
  • They judged Job by his circumstances They assumed that Job's outward situation told them all they needed to know. Though we don’t usually condemn people for sins just because the suffer (usually)). However, sometime people do judge people because they continue to suffer in their grief.
  • They did not empathize with Job’s feelings. They ignored Job’ pain and focused on intellectual questions of right and wrong.

This does not catalogue all the ways one can hurt those we are trying to comfort. Our culture has developed many well-meaning sayings that ultimately harm, such as:

It will be alright
God has a plan
He’s in a better place
I understand how you feel
We’ll/you’ll get/have another
Time will heal it
Don’t cry
Just keep busy
You’ll get over this
God has something better for you

Some of these are true and hurtful. Others are simply not true at all. There is a better way, a way to LIFTTT people in their sorrow.

  • Listen In order to grieve well people need to tell their stories. They need to express both the emotions they feel in the moment and stories of the person, thing or circumstance that they have lost. Simply being that person open and eager to listen sets the stage for much healing.
  • Ignorance about circumstances Even if those who grieve were a part of the cause of their own loss, it is important to allow them to understand and embrace that truth on their own. As the time of grieving progresses there may be a proper time to “bring some reality to bear”. However that time is not early and we do well to err on the side of lateness.
  • Feelings Allow them to express their own feelings, whatever feelings those might be. And empathize with those feelings. This will mean also allowing your own feelings to show, though not unrestrained. Evident enough to let those you comfort know that you feels things they are feeling.
  • Touch Those who grieve often feel isolated. Respectful physical contact – a hand on a shoulder, offering hands to hold or a hug if your relationship is that close – these and other things like them make your presence that much more real to them.
  • Testimony of God’s grace Often, there are opportunities as people tell their stories to note them testifying to God’s grace. Each good memory can be evidence of God’s presence in their past and a promise for his continued presence into the future. Be prepared. People are often ambivalent at these times and may express clear anger at God. Accept this anger as well. If a person is not ready to testify to God’s grace, your own testimony may help. Only, be sure that you only speak about yourself and your experience of God and do not imply that they, too, should feel that way.
  • Tangible help Ask to help in ways that are concrete and recognizable. Ask. Don’t assume that you know what they need. And don’t assume that you have permission to do something you know they need. And don’t simply say, “Call me if you need something.” Often they won’t. Rather, ask if you can lift some of the burden of their lives:

    Take their children to soccer
    Clean their bathroom
    Mow their lawn
    Any other activity they may feel under motivated to complete

For other information on healing from suffering or abuse see: