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To Accompany and Console Grieving Hearts

In the face of church members experiencing loss, its easy to feel at a loss for words. Well-intended advice, though given with the best of intention, sometimes inadvertently causes more harm, which can be rather embarrassing. In reality, those in grief often need the presence of someone who simply stands by them. Quiet companionship, listening, serving and caring can unexpectedly provide genuine comfort to the grieving hearts.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Good Intentions, Unintended Outcomes

During a fellowship exchange, a church member shared a personal experience of overwhelming sorrow at his mothers funeral. The loss of a close relative, once the anchor of his life, left him with a profound sense of emptiness.

At that vulnerable moment, a well-meaning sister approached him, asserting that Christians are Gods people and he should find strength in the Lord since his mother had been taken to heaven for a joyous life. However, instead of comfort, these words stirred anger within him. While he acknowledged the belief that his mother was in heaven and they would reunite in the future, the grief made it impossible to suppress the urge to cry. How could one ask someone who had just lost her/his mother to be strong?

Similar situations abound in church life. When members face the sorrow of losing a loved one, many attempt to offer solace with phrases like: Fear not, for God will help you! Be strong in the Lord, and overcome your weakness! Gods people never act like that.Some may even suggest repentance, linking suffering to sin.

While the speakers offer words of encouragement with sincere intentions, theres no need to doubt their empathy and enthusiasm in wanting to alleviate the grief of others. However, these well-intentioned words often fail to bring comfort and may, in fact, evoke anger and sorrow. This is because individuals experiencing grief are engulfed in the stark reality of loss, making their emotions intensely real. Moreover, repentance should not be imposed on grieving hearts as the primary task, as it seems to negate their right to grieve and introduces irrelevant notions of sin.

Addressing the Uncomfortable Silence

Its common to feel an urgency to offer consoling words to those in grief, driven by a desire to provide solace. Staying silent might appear less caring or inadequate in expressing condolences. Alternatively, in some situations, we may feel compelled to speak even when we are overwhelmed in the face of grieving individuals.

However, the listeners might resist these words, feeling that the speaker lacks an understanding of their sorrow and the profound meaning of their loss. Doubts may arise regarding the sincerity behind the comforting words, as they may perceive it as a perfunctory task for the speaker -- aimed at helping them move away from self-pity quickly. The focus seems to be on efficient condolence rather than genuine care. Additionally, there may be a sense that the speaker views themselves as more knowledgeable in theology, faith, and teachings, expecting the grieving individual to display more bravery, piety, and faithfulness.

In this case, those offering comfort might feel that their silence leaves them in debt to the grieving individuals. However, attempting to console with words often backfires, creating a sense of indebtedness as the words intensify the pain. So, how can comforters truly provide solace to those with grieving hearts?

Companionship Trumps Words

When faced with grieving individuals, many pastors advocate for a strategy of silent companionship -- being a good listener, observing their reactions and needs, and offering assistance at their pace.

Companionship itself becomes a form of condolence, signifying a willingness to share the burden and walk alongside those in grief. Remaining with them, practicing silent empathy, is a potent form of service. Even if the meaning of the silence is not fully understood, its closeness to their needs surpasses any comforting words.

The Power of Listening

Listening takes precedence in pastoral care, according to Rodney J. Hunter, a professor of pastoral theology. Pastors, in offering care to their congregants, should prioritize listening over speaking. Proper responses during listening, such as verbal cues like hmm or yeah and appropriate body language like nods or gentle touches, demonstrate respect and care. Through active listening, individuals can convey their understanding and sympathy for those experiencing loss, deepening the connection with their sorrow.

In the immediate aftermath, offensive words uttered by those in grief, even if they insult others or God, need not be corrected or contested right away. Correction can be deferred until they regain their composure.

Accompanying in Service and Care

During this challenging time, individuals in grief might feel thirsty, hungry, or fatigued after extended periods of crying or sharing their emotions. Providing simple offerings such as water and food or a quiet place to rest can be a thoughtful way to serve them. Additional assistance, such as house cleaning, pet-sitting, or babysitting, can also be offered.

Companionship in Shared Emotions

True companionship involves sharing in the emotions of those who are grieving. Paul the Apostle encourages us to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Romans 12:15). Its important not to dissuade individuals from expressing their sorrow through tears; tears can be a soothing outlet for grief. Likewise, theres no need to hide personal emotions and vulnerability in the face of the grieving, for even Jesus wept when He saw Martha and Mary in tears. Weeping together narrows the emotional gap between the comforter and the grieving individual, fostering an environment where hugs and supportive gestures are welcomed.

For grieving church members, rather than employing persuasion, silent empathy, attentive listening, practical services, and the shared experience of weeping together are more attuned to their needs. Being present with those in grief allows them to more profoundly sense comfort and healing from God amidst their sorrow. Its an expression of love, demonstrating a caring concern for lives affected by lifes challenges, even if the caregivers themselves may be emotionally vulnerable. Following the example of Christ, who endured punishment and wounds for our sins, we are duty-bound to courageously shoulder the responsibility of accompanying and comforting grieving souls.

Author: Liu Kai

Translator: Bei Feng