Two years before I left the pastorate, I asked several church members to reach out to the grieving. I started with a question, “What have you said when you’ve heard about the death of a loved one?”
“With all those people crowded around her, I thought I’d stay out of it and not add to the confusion.”
“He had his pastor, his family and many friends. What could I say that they couldn’t?”
“I didn’t know what to say to her.”
“I don’t know enough about the Bible to give them the right words.”
“I was afraid that if I tried to say anything, I’d start crying. That’s no way to help.”
They wanted to help but felt inadequate. They assumed both too much and too little. They assumed that others had the right words to say. They assumed too little in thinking they themselves had nothing to offer.
They focused on their inadequacy and it paralyzed them from opening up to those who hurt. Sometimes a single word or a touch on the shoulder can make an amazing difference.
For example, I once visited Irene, whose husband had died from a massive coronary.
Later she thanked me profusely and I wondered why.
“Everyone was trying to express sympathy. I appreciated that, but the more they talked, the deeper I felt my loss. You came in, smiled, and said, ‘It’s strange for Joe to lie in a funeral home. Wouldn’t he want us to burst out in praise for God’s love?’”
“Instead of crying, a song ran through my mind,” she said. “Days before Joe died, I heard him singing ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’ Just as the song says, God watches over Joe.” What had seemed insignificant to me, made a vast difference to her.
We don’t have to be theologically trained or enroll in counseling classes to help. We do need to care and be sensitive to the pain.
“Don’t worry about knowing what to say,” I told the group. “If you focus on those who hurt, you’ll make a difference.”