Reading the passages from Job this week, I began to think, ‘How does one preach on this book?’ The thought leapt to my mind in particularly as I read the response of the first ‘friend’. But, then came Job’s response to his friends: ‘Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid’ (Job 6:21, NIV).
We avoid people going through pain because we are scared or maybe fear that misfortune is contagious. In the whole passage Job cries out in anguish, asking God at the end of chapter 7, ‘Why the hell do you care about us anyway? Why can’t you just leave me alone?’ We often don’t want to hear such pain, so often people are left to simply suffer alone. The passage would be a difficult sermon, but it could also offer relief to those hurting or in pain who wish others to hear this, but feel unable while hurting to say anything.
Duke’s Faith & Leadership blog on Friday pointed to an article that gives us a glimpse of the reality of Job’s words by pointing to a Wall Street Journal Article, ‘When a Friend Grieves, How to Get Sympathy Right‘. It isn’t written from a Christian or even a faith perspective, but gives some help when confronted with grieving friends.
“There is a skill to comforting, but we are not taught it,” says Val Walker, a grief educator and author of “The Art of Comforting.” “We are such a fix-it society, we think we are supposed to help the person feel better, instead of just listening to what someone is saying.” Alternatively, we often avoid people who are vulnerable or in need because we feel uncomfortable with their emotions, she says.
So what is the right way to comfort someone who is grieving? Here are some suggestions, culled from grief experts and people who have lost a loved one:
Say something simple. “I am sorry to hear the news” will suffice at first. Then, on an ongoing basis, “I am thinking of you.”
Admit that you don’t know what to say, says Ms. Walker, the grief educator.
Don’t ask, “What happened?” “You are making the grieving person relive pain,” says Ms. White, who lost her husband.
Don’t launch into a detailed account of your loss of a loved one. “Give them just enough to let them know that you can relate,” says Ms. Walker. “What you are trying to say is, ‘I lost my mother, too. What is it like for you?’ ”
Avoid clichés. That includes, “Good things come from bad,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “He’s at peace now.” Ms. Walker says they’re “preachy, presumptuous and impersonal.”
Don’t claim to know how the grieving person feels. You don’t. Don’t suggest that the mourner “move on.” Stay away from words such as “ought,” “should” and “need.” You may want to say, “I can only imagine what you are going through.”
Follow the mourning family’s lead regarding Facebook. Have they posted about the death? If they haven’t, don’t expose their grief. Should you decide to use Facebook, simply express condolences or share a memory. Do not discuss circumstances of the death.
Keep your religious beliefs to yourself unless you are sure that the person you are trying to comfort shares them. (It is OK simply to say that you will keep the family in your prayers.)
If you are reaching out or offering help, don’t expect a response. Explain that you are checking in but understand that the mourner may not be able to get back to you and so you will call again.
Promise to be there in the coming weeks and months. And keep your promise.