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8 Ways to Help Those Who Grieve

This week our ministry has experienced a devastating loss. Angie Larson—one of the sweetest Christian ladies I’ve ever met, and a joyful servant at Emmanuel Christian Academy, was suddenly taken home to Heaven on Friday morning. For Angie’s husband, five children, and our ministry family, this loss is indescribably painful. And the grieving process has really only just begun. There’s a very long road ahead.

It’s hard to know what to do in times like this. There are no good answers. Emotions are overwhelming. And yet, more than ever, times like this call for care, shepherding, and lots of prayer. Though I feel completely inept at the process of leading people through this type of valley, the Lord placed upon my heart to share some ways He and His Word have ministered to our hearts over the last three days.

Here are some things I’ve shared with the Larsons, with our students, and with our church and school families. Perhaps they will encourage you or someone you know who is grieving.

Here are some ways to serve those who are hurting…

1. Go. Get to the need. You can figure out “what to do” later… for the short term, just be there and be available. I have been so blessed to watch so many faithful, loving people just “be there” these past few days! God’s people are the BEST!

2. Weep. Jesus did. God gave us tears to help express emotions that have no words. And God sees, understands, saves, and responds to our tears. Sometimes there’s just nothing else to do but weep.

3. Laugh. I know that sounds strange. But it’s also a part of God’s way of helping us process overwhelming emotions. Teens almost always grieve with both tears and laughter. They weep for a while. Then they tell stories, remember the person they love, and laugh for a while. Then they weep again. It’s healthy. And it’s ok.

4. Be still. Sometimes there’s just no “right words.” Everything falls short. Nothing seems to “make a difference.” Just be there and be ok with quiet. It’s ok to sit with someone and say nothing. Your presence often speaks volumes. Your presence communicates comfort and support that no words could.

5. Pray. Silently or out loud. Go to God. Take others to God. Uplift them. Intercede for them. This is what the Spirit does. And it makes a difference. Coming into God’s presence in grieving brings a comfort and stability that nothing else can.

6. Serve. Think of needs and go to them. Get ahead of the need. Plan meals. Arrange transportation. Help plan arrangements. Ask God to show you something you can do to make the burden a little bit lighter. Be creative, but not overwhelming or presumptuous. Be there but not invasive. Serve intentionally but not intrusively.

7. Speak. Mostly scripture, encouragement, and love. Be wise and careful. Share a verse. Write it on a card. Text it. Email it. Remind the grieving of God’s promises, God’s goodness, God’s love. Say, “I love you. I’m praying for you.” Don’t be trite or minimize the grief, don’t rebuke or reprove… but also don’t fail to give HOPE from scripture. That’s a delicate balance.

8. Protect. Grieving hearts are raw. They hurt. They bleed. They relive painful moments over and over. They don’t sleep well. They don’t eat. They tend toward exhaustion and illness. They ache with waves of recurring pain. How can you protect? Don’t ask a lot of questions. Don’t be curious about details. Don’t spread private information. Don’t insert yourself into the personal and private aspects of the trial. But make sure the grieving person is resting, eating, and being cared for. Be available to help make these things happen. (And protect from invasive or insensitive people. Every grieving situation has a few of these.)

Grief is sacred. It brings God’s grace to bear in a person’s life in a way that nothing else does. God is real in our pain. His comfort is tangible. And He uses His people—His body—to communicate comfort. He uses community among believers to activate grace and strength in hurting hearts.

Don’t be afraid to lead through grief. It’s always hard. It’s always tentative and unfamiliar. No one would choose it. No pastor feels adequate or “good” at this. But when people are grieving, others need to respond with grace… and often people are looking for someone to give direction for “how to respond.”

When you depend upon the Lord, He will guide your actions and your words. He will use you to express His grace. Even though you will probably feel like you’re tripping all over yourself… fumble forward and let God do the rest.

Psalms 73:26 “26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

 

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5 Comments

  • Cary, great article. Sorry you all are bearing the burden, but glad you are there to minister. We learned how to minister in grief when we went through it ourselves–and we also learned how not to minister. No amount of trite Romans 8:28 quoting helps. Love, tears, and silent ministering to needs–those speak volumes.

    Thanks too for being a blessing to us over the years. Your ministry in writing and music has meant a lot!

    John & Lena Allen

  • Cary, everything you wrote is true. When I lost my wife in 2002 my church gathered around and nursed me through my grief. I still love telling the stories of things they did for me and my seven children to lighten our load of grief. They truly lived out God’s love toward a hurting family. No one ever questioned why I sat in church week after week crying. A few men came by the to sit with me instead of trying to give answers. The women did laundry, made meals, and loved on my kids. Psalm 147:3 is true, “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Just like a nurse uses her feet to walk to the need and uses her hands to bind up a wound, the Lord uses His body, the church, to gather around the hurting and to bind the wounds of grief.

    Thank you Cary for a great article!

  • Pastor Schmidt,

    Thank you so much for putting down these thoughts. As a young pastor, I’m learning a lot about grieving families and have now been with many families as they have lost a love one. I will put to use these helpful thoughts.

  • Bro. Schmidt,
    As a pastor of a grieving church myself, I thank you for the very practical approach. It is so easy to loose the person in the search for a thing to say.

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