It was unexpected, swift, and yet seemed like an eternity. The phone rang. Sis is in the hospital. I wasn’t too concerned. I told my husband it sounded serious but felt sure she would be released. Moments later: It doesn’t look good. A few hours later: She’s gone.
That was several years ago now. It was her birthday, she was 40, and she had passed on to eternity. It was a sad night, and the weeks ahead were difficult. I was tasked with taking care of things that must be done when a loved one passes—things I never thought I’d need to do so soon. My older sis had a heart that broke and failed, and we were all left with broken hearts.
Over the years I’ve mourned her death in various ways. I’m acquainted with death. I’ve said goodbye to my father, brother-in-law, and four babies through miscarriage. There have been moments of incredible hope. I know that one day death will be swallowed up. I know death has already been defeated because of our Savior. The truth of these verses leaves me longing for heaven, anticipating the day when there will be no more tears or sorrow, but only rejoicing—forever. That day is coming, and it will be glorious.
There have been days when my tears could fill a river. I weep for our loss. I have no words. I have hope, but I feel a heaviness that’s indescribable, so I don’t try to explain. I simply cry.
The process of mourning the loss of my loved ones has changed the way I interact with others who mourn. The Scriptures tell us to mourn with those who mourn. We can read article after article that shares the perfect way to mourn with one another. We can scan the Scriptures for examples of how to encourage the mourning.
There’s great wisdom in knowing and understanding the Word of God as you mourn with others. It is right and good to go to the Scriptures. Surprisingly, though, the lesson I’ve learned through my many years of mourning is that it’s okay to know nothing and say nothing to a mourning friend.
If the reports of the deaths that we might experience during this coronavirus pandemic are true, you and I might find ourselves caring for those who mourn. For most of us, there will be a desire to comfort. Here are two not often discussed ways you can serve those who are mourning.
When you see a dripping faucet your first thought isn’t to just let it continue dripping. Each drip annoys you, costs you money, and creates rust. We want to stop the leak; we want to fix it. Most of us don’t know how to fix it, of course, so we call an expert and ask him to pore over the faucet until the drip is gone.
There’s a temptation to treat our mourning friends like leaky faucets that need to be fixed. And the expert we call on is ourselves. We try recalling all the memorized Scriptures in our heads, or we run to the concordance and look up search terms: “mourning,” “sorrow,” “pain,” “Job.” Then we spill this wisdom onto our friend, hoping to fix the leak. The effort is well meaning, and there’s certainly a time and place for it. But too often we search for the perfect knowledge that will bring comfort and joy when all we really need to say is nothing at all.
When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.
To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.
Silence Is a Virtue
In a world where our minds are constantly invaded by noise, it’s no wonder the discipline of silence can feel so difficult. Job’s friends should have kept silent and simply wept with him instead of rattling off unhelpful advice. Have you ever spent any time in the Book of Job and cheered on Job’s friends? I know I have.
I’ve struggled to understand why their advice is wrong. At face value most of it sounds pretty wise. But they weren’t comforting Job; they were accusing him. In Job 16 he lays out exactly why these brothers were not helpful, calling them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). One even asked a rhetorical question in an attempt to discount Job’s wisdom (Job 15:2).
But did Job’s friends set out to be miserable comforters? Absolutely not. Each had a genuine desire “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). So what went wrong?
They spoke without waiting and without thinking. And we often do the same. The next time a friend needs comfort and you have no idea what to say, perhaps you shouldn’t say anything. It may be an opportunity to cry together. And during this time of social distancing, together may be over the phone. But your presence, even if at a distance, may be enough. Maybe you could, with a compassion-filled heart, pray together. But wait on the advice and weigh your words.
Our Lord is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He comforts us so we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-5). We must trust Him, for He will bring comfort to our hurting friend.
A version of this post first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.