Links in God's Chain of Compassion

by PeggySue Wells

Three days after our daughter died, my sister-in-law telephoned from out of state. "I've been trying to get your brother to call, but he doesn't know what to say," she apologized.

My brother's discomfort is common. Loss and its accompanying deep grief makes us feel awkward. What do you say? How can you ease the pain? How can you be the hands of Jesus to someone who is suffering loss?

Here are four principles that will equip you to better comfort others in times of loss and grief:

Giving hope is more important than giving advice. According to Webster, helping means to give support, make more bearable, relieve, benefit, and change for the better. As Christ's ambassadors, Jesus calls us not to be experts, but to come alongside as comforters, to provide courage for another during his or her darkest hour.

"When my dad died, I held it together until after the funeral," Bill said. "Then I fell apart. I was in such deep despair. Some friends tried to say just the right thing but there are no right words. One friend simply cried with me. I felt loved and accepted by that friend."

Job expressed similar feelings when he said, "Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me? A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty" (Job 6:12-14 niv).

You don't have to have all the answers, or have your life all together, to help another. Barbara related, "When my children were killed in an auto accident, I appreciated those who saw me around town and said, Hello, I've been thinking of you,' and gave me a hug."

Sharon's husband died after a long illness. "The people who ministered to me were the ones who walked with me in the parking lot at church, the ones who invited me to sit with them so I would not be alone in my regular pew, and the ones who invited me to lunch on what would have been a lonely weekend afternoon."

Faith is trusting God when we least understand his ways. The most effective comfort comes from those who do not have it all figured out, but rather from those who can put their arms around hurting people and say, "I don't understand either. But I love you and I am here to go through this with you."

Remember the anniversaries of loss and grief. The first year after the loss of a loved one is especially difficult. Holiday traditions are a continual reminder that life is forever altered.  It is comforting to your grieving friend when you send a note, flowers, or make a memorial gift in the loved one's name on Valentines Day, Easter, Mother's or Father's Day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. The anniversary date of the loved one's death is particularly sorrowful and a telephone call or card from you is soothing with the words, "I'm remembering you today."

Time does not heal the wounds of someone who has had to say good-by to a loved one. Time merely teaches us how to live with that big, gaping hole in our lives. The weeks, months, and years after a loss are your opportunity to walk the journey of grief with another.

Often the best comfort comes from one who has been there. Arlene placed a rose at the front of the church as a memorial the week after her husband was buried. When the service ended, Delores, who had been widowed the year before, asked Arlene what she would do now. "Go home, I guess," the new widow answered. "Let's go get a beer," Delores teased. For the first time in a week, Arlene laughed at the absurdity of the idea. Actually, the two women went out for a milkshake, but Delores remembered how unfair life felt going home all alone the day she had placed a rose at the front of the church after her husband died.

Similarly, Jim felt completely lost after his wife died. She had always done the shopping and he didn't even know what detergent to buy. Widowed several years, Richard still remembered how strangely lost he had felt learning his way around the grocery after his own wife passed away. Richard offered to take Jim on his first trip to the market.  

In God's incredible economy, no experience is wasted, especially not our sufferings. Second Corinthians 1:3-6 illustrates: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

The critical factor in helping others is the ability to see and feel their pain. Our God personally consoles and revives us in our despair. He comforts us in our sufferings so we will be able to be the links in God's chain of compassion to others. We are called to daily mirror Jesus Christ by being His helping hands to a hurting world.

               PeggySue Wells is the author of several titles including What To Do When You Don't Know What To Say, a book about helping in times of crisis by Bethany House Publishers, and What To Do When You Don't Know What To Say To Your Own Family, and What To Do When You Don't Want To Go To Church, both AMG publications.

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What Not To Do

Grief and loss are part of life. How we face the crisis often depends on what kind of support we receive. When we come in contact with a person who is suffering, do we leave them feeling enCOURAGEd, or more wounded?

Below is a list of what not to do.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Avoid clichés. To say, "God must have needed another angel in heaven or another flower in his garden," reduces our great God to a selfish, needy deity. It is better to tell your friend, "I'm sorry."

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Do not turn away, pretending not to see someone who is grieving. Avoiding them only adds to their pain and isolation. Walk up to your friend and say, "How are you? I've been thinking of you."

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Resist saying, "At least you had those years together," or "at least your loved one is in a better place," or "at least you don't have to worry anymore." Don't say "at least" to try to minimize someone's pain. It only insults the griever.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Never think it is too late to offer support or that everyone else is helping. Grief is a long process and you may be the one God is calling to encourage a griever after others have moved on to other things.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Don't pressure those who are grieving to talk about their loss if they don't want to. Don't be afraid of listening if they do want to talk. Leave the door open by asking, "How are you?"

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Don't try to distract the griever with too much busyness. Don't clean out articles that belonged to the loved one who died unless you are asked. You cannot shortcut the grief process. Grief cannot be walked around; it must be walked through. Be there to walk the road with your friend.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Don't quote "God won't give you more than you can handle," or "All things work together for good." These can sound callous and flippant to someone who simply needs to cry.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Don't limit your support to only the immediate family of the loved one who died. Often there are extended family members or best friends who are reeling from the loss and need comfort, too.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Don't assume marriage relationships are fine. Loss of a child can be particularly stressful to a marriage. Two drowning people cannot save each other. Gently ask your friend how her marriage is holding up. People in pain are too numb to seek help. You may be the one to help a couple seek appropriate counseling.

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