Grief resides with loss rather than with solutions. You cannot fix grief – it has to heal the emotions of its own time. It is a mistake to react too quickly or judge the emotional out-pour of a person. Some people feel liberty to cry and others, like me, had their tear ducts sewed shut at an early age (not really). Whatever the response, it is important to allow the grieving person to express those emotions freely. Just because you feel a grieving person should not be responding the way they are, does not mean they are not grieving properly. Time and sincere grief will heal the emotional wound they face. Many people, especially men, need affirmation that their emotions are acceptable and the freedom to have very little external display of them.
Grief is an emotional balm rather than an overflow of emotion – not all bleeding needs to be stopped immediately. When you attempt to stop the grieving mechanism, you can damage the emotional and mental expression prematurely. Many years ago, a doctor friend of mine entered a construction site only to step on a nail. I asked if he ought to bandage the wound and he commented that letting it bleed was more likely to cleanse the wound than bandaging. Sometimes grief wounds pour with emotional expression. The emotional expression helps cleanse the wound. Don’t be hasty as a friend to limit that emotional expression.
Grief should be distinguished from despair. Grief restores the mind and emotions to health by opening ones perspective. The perspective Christian people have is one of God’s sovereign work – his great goodness, and comfort. With great pain we eventually fall on this reality that God has worked as he pleased. From there we have a better view of God’s efforts. Despair defies God’s work and wedges the person away from God’s plan and sovereignty. Despair is not grief but an infection of the emotional wound. Be careful of infecting a wound by omitting talk of God’s goodness. The grieving person needs to grasp firmly that their situation is well within God’s power and plan. Times of great emotional outpouring, however, are not times to apply this fact. This fact doesn’t fix grief, it simply focuses the person on God rather than on self. When you minister to the grieving, speak about God’s plan as a way to help them refocus rather than as a way to change their emotional expression.
Three ways to minister to the grieving:
- Be There. If you are unsure what to say, say nothing. When in doubt about whether to visit the grieving, visit. Being there is a passive deterrent against self-focus so it helps the grieving person consider others.
- Be Patient. Grief takes time. When ministering to the grieving, be patient with the emotions and inconsistency of the person. I have found people struggle most at three occasions: the moment of the event, the funeral/memorial, and the months that follow. Minister with the months that follow in mind.
- Be Focused. Grief seems to consume the focus of a person’s mind. Focus your ministry on the mission of God still before the grieving person. Along with your presence and patience, include the person on your mission or remind them of theirs. If the grieving person had no real mission before or it wasn’t God’s mission, this may be a great time of transformation. Guide them toward God during this time. Being focused on God’s mission pushes back the emptiness and despair caused by the loss. God heals us as we obey His will.