Most of us would say we want to help our friends who are in pain, but many don’t know how. Here are some really practical tips for helping a grieving friend.
Jesus wept with those who were mourning.
He knew the full splendor and beauty and majesty of where their loved ones were.
But He wept. He felt their pain.
The glory of heaven doesn’t cancel out the pain of grief here- they are two separate entities. We can be thankful and hopeful for where they are and still feel the immense weight and darkness of loss on this side of eternity.
It’s okay to be hopeful, happy, devastated, and mournful all at one time. A healthy faith is multifaceted and allows for “conflicting” emotions.
Romans 12:15 says, "rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
We as Christians have to be comfortable with sitting in grief with others- we can’t be a people quick to celebrate in others’ success but slow to sit with those who mourn.
Because that’s not what Jesus did.
When we love people who are going through a season of grief, we want to help, support, and be a light for them, but many people just don’t know what to do. Our culture is so bad about sitting with grief because it’s not glamorous or fun; it’s hard, painful, and uncomfortable. But that’s another reason it’s so crucial for the Church to rally around people when they are hurting; it’s counter-cultural. It’s almost radical to run into someone else's mess in a world that says to do everything for yourself.
Here are some tips on ways to help a grieving friend, based on what impacted me while I was in a stage of grief after my dad died.
1. Think before you speak
People don’t know what to say, so they often fall back on well-meaning platitudes like “they’re in a better place” and “it’s for the best.” While those things may technically be true, it can feel dismissive of one’s grief and pain. Jesus sat with those hurting, even though he knew the full glory of where they were. Be present with those grieving, and don't minimize their pain.
2. Remind them of the truth
On the flip side, grief has a way of distorting the truth. It can convince people they are alone and that it will last forever. Remind them of God’s faithfulness and how He has shown up in the past. Remind them that grief WILL get better. Remind them that God will use this for good.
At one point in the darkness of grief, a sweet friend reminded me that I would be whole again eventually, and I told her I didn’t believe it.
She said, “that’s okay; I'll believe enough for both of us. I know it’s going to happen.”
Remind them of the promise and character of God that they can run to.
3. Show up
When in a season of grief, it’s easy to self-isolate, but it’s when we need community the most. Keep showing up for your friends over and over. You don’t have to know what to do or say because there is so much power in just showing up. Keep inviting them places, keep offering to help, keep standing in the gap. Even if they say no or don’t feel up to it, there is so much power in the presence of people who love you.4. Let them take their time.
Grief has no timeline, but it does take way longer than most people expect. It affects everyone differently but generally lasts between six months and four years. Continue to give them space to grieve, continue to reach out to them, and continue to love them well after the newness has passed. Let them know you are still thinking about them and are there for them months after the initial event. Let them know you have not forgotten about them, and it’s okay to still feel what they are feeling.
5. Offer practical help
Something I heard a lot was, “what can I do to help?” I had no idea what to tell people. It felt selfish to say, “I could really use some meals; I feel too overwhelmed to cook.” I didn’t know who was really offering and who was being polite.
Offer practical help, and be specific. Ask if and when you can bring them a meal. Ask if they need help with dishes or laundry. Ask if they want people to be around them or if they want to be supported from a distance. Ask specific, practical questions.
6. Pray for them.
Prayer shouldn’t be the last case scenario when we are desperate. It should be our first and best choice to help ourselves and others. The Bible shows us the power of intercessory prayer- that you have the power to stand in the gap and do battle on behalf of your friend. Pray for them often. It’s the most powerful thing you can do.