In my previous post titled, “Sometimes There are No Words” I focused on the truth that when coming alongside someone who is grieving, power can be found in the practice of silence as it allows God to work when we do not seem able to find the appropriate words on our own.
However, as confusing or contrary as it may initially seem, it is just as true to say that there are instances when our silence may actually be hurtful to those who are grieving. Silence can wrongly be mistaken for apathy, especially when those who are grieving are ready to begin expressing their sadness and pain but we are not available to them because of our own fears and doubts about our ability to help.
I believe that most of the time, we aren’t apathetic at all, we just believe our own internal dialogue which whispers:
- I don’t want to say something that will bring further pain
- I don’t know what to say
- I don’t know how to say what I want to say
- I’m not spiritual enough to say anything helpful
- I’m sure that someone else is talking with them
- I bet they are tired of talking about this
That internal dialogue wrongly convinces and excuses us from entering into the pain that people are experiencing. This happens within marriages, friendships, church relationships and work relationships. Fear of hurting others with our words and/or saying something inappropriate silences us.
It is my hope that as you process this topic you will become better prepared to fight through the internal dialogue and to also remember the following ideas so you will be equipped to speak into another’s pain:
People Need Your Presence: In order to be able to speak love and truth into people’s lives, you need to be in their presence. Never underestimate the power of your availability.
- People Need to Be Heard: Always, and I stress, always be present in people’s lives in order to listen first. Listen, affirm their pain, empathize through body language, facial expressions, eye contact. Cry with them. Laugh with them.
- People Need You to Remember Their Loved One: One important thing to do with those in the grieving process is to bring up your own memories with the one who has passed. This communicates your own loss to the one your ministering to and it creates a helpful bond to pursue further dialogue. If you didn’t know the person who passed, then ask questions about who they were. What were their strengths? What made them laugh?
- People Need to an Authentic You, Not Your Lame Platitudes: Platitudes = Pain. Please remember that! Unhelpful phrases like, “God just needed another angel in heaven” are not only theologically inaccurate, they are also extremely insensitive. Why not just stress reality? “I don’t know why this has happened, but I do know you’re not going to walk through this alone, because I am here for you.”
- People Need Your Love: Grieving brings a deep sense of isolation. Isolation is a liar and tries to convince people they are alone and not understood. Your efforts to bring acts of love into a person’s life are critically important for their healing process.
- Don’t ask to bring a meal, bring one.
- Don’t ask if you can run errands, run them.
- Don’t ask them to go outside to the park with you, take them.
In other words, don’t ask how you can serve them, just serve them.
There are ultimately many ways for you to speak into someone’s grieving, but did you happen to pick up on a common thread throughout the five suggestions above? All of it can be boiled down to the truth that our actions speak louder than our words. God will use your words but probably not the ones you think he will use. Stop fretting over the “what” and “how” of your words and live life with your grieving loved one, friend or neighbor. In their grieving process, they will need you much more than they need your words.