Links in God’s Chain of Compassion

Do's and don'ts when dealing with another's grief.

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,” she apologized, “but he doesn’t know what to say.”

My brother’s discomfort is common. Loss and its accompanying deep grief make us feel awkward. What do you say? How can you ease the pain? How can you help someone who is suffering loss?

Our God personally consoles and revives us in our despair. He comforts us in our sufferings so we will be the links in His chain of compassion to others. Here are four principles that will equip you to do this.

Giving help is more important than giving advice. According to Webster, help means “to give support, make more bearable, relieve, benefit, and change for the better.” We don’t have to be experts; we can come alongside as comforters, providing courage for another during 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 so loved and accepted by that friend.”

Job — perhaps the most famous sufferer — expressed similar feelings: “Oh, how shall I find help within myself? The power to aid myself is put out of my reach. Devotion is due from his friends to one who despairs and loses faith in the Almighty” (Job 6:12, 13, NEB).

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. They 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.” This is the promise of Romans 8:38, 39:

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (NIV).

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 and thoughtful to your grieving friend when you send a note, flowers, or make a memorial gift in their loved one’s name on special holidays, birthdays, and wedding anniversaries. The anniversary date of the loved one’s death is particularly sorrowful. A telephone call or card from you is soothing.

Time does not heal the wounds of someone who has had to say goodbye 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. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls?” (NJB).

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. After 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.

In God’s incredible economy, no experience is wasted — especially not our sufferings. Second Corinthians 1:3-6 illustrates this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father and the God who gives every possible encouragement; he supports us in every hardship, so that we are able to come to the support of others, in every hardship of theirs because of the encouragement that we ourselves receive from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ. So if we have hardships to undergo, this will contribute to your encouragement and your salvation (NJB).

The critical piece in helping others is the ability to see and feel their pain. Be willing and be available so God can use you.

What Not to Do