3 Well-Meaning (but Unhelpful) Approaches During Grief

As you likely know, Kaye’s father recently passed away. During this time the love, support, prayers, meals, notes of encouragement, and messages have been overwhelming. We have great neighbors and great friends. I cannot imagine grieving without the body of Christ surrounding us, encouraging us and loving us.

Watching Kaye grieve has been saddening and challenging, as at times I don’t really know what to say and when to say it. So, I just try and be there instead of trying to fix something. For my own sake, I have asked Kaye, “Now that we have gone through this—what things should I NOT say to someone in pain?”

Through the years as a pastor, and now as a husband more intimately involved, I have seen at least three well-meaning but unhelpful approaches to a grieving person.

The Cheerleader

The cheerleader attempts to encourage you that “things are going to be OK” and that “you can overcome this.” They attempt to pep talk you out of the pain, as if the pain can be removed quickly, and by doing so this unintentionally minimizes your pain.

The Concordance

The concordance pellets you with an array of Bible verses: “God works all things for good.” “Your joy will come in the morning.” Of course, you know these verses are true, but when the next morning still feels more like pain than joy, you wonder if something is wrong with you.

The Grief Topper

The grief topper compares your pain with his pain, and his tops yours. His story is more tragic, his loss more severe, which logically means that you should be grateful that you don’t have it as bad as he does.

In grief, the most loving and helpful thing one can offer is presence, not counsel. Presence is often expressed in a card, an email, a meal, a hug, or a visit. John Piper pondered this question about helping those who are hurting:

Can we learn something from Job’s friends about how to help the hurting?

Absolutely. Those first seven days were their golden hour. If they had stopped there they would have been heroes, I think, because they would have shown compassion and patience. And that’s what we should learn.

When you walk into a horrific calamity you should be really slow to speak and quick to listen. You should be quick to cry, quick to hold, and quick to meet needs, bring meals, and wait upon the Lord. The theological wrestling comes later, probably.

It has been said often that the most equipped and prepared comforters are those who have been through the pain and the trials that others are facing. Perhaps those who have been comforted through seasons of grief are the best at comforting others because they learned the power of presence. They have experienced God’s love and goodness in the midst of the pain. Often He doesn’t come to us with answers, but He always comes to us with Himself. And really, He is all we need.

He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:4-5)